Proust Nature Questionnaire – Ru Mahoney

RU MAHONEY is a freelance Science Impact Producer based in Seattle, WA. She works at the nexus of conservation, education, and storytelling to catalyze interdisciplinary approaches to increasing science literacy and engaging public audiences. Her research on science communication has been supported by the National Science Foundation, and she has been a contributor to Jackson Hole WILD, Science Media Awards and Summit in the HUB, Utah Public Radio, TEDxHunstville, and the National Children’s Forest program. Ru is currently a research and impact production consultant on two feature-length documentaries.

3 words to describe Nature?

Primal. Nostalgic. Restorative.

3 things Nature taught you?

That change is inevitable, that those who adapt thrive, and that if you make Nature your home you can be at home anywhere.

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Lake Superior is powerful. I spent a lot of summers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If I could buy a lake cottage tomorrow, it would be somewhere along the coast of Superior.

The west coast of Scotland is stunning. My father’s family emigrated from there, so I’m a little biased. But there’s a reason the drive from Glencoe to the Isle of Skye is world-famous. I’ll keep going back as long as I’m living. It’s all my favorite colors and landscapes in a beautiful day’s drive. Even if it’s cold and rainy, which is often.

Pololu Valley on The Big Island in Hawai`i is worth getting up before dawn for. It’s wild north shore waves, stacked mountain cliffs, and moss covered trees all in one. Plus the trail down gives a perfect vantage for watching the sunrise so the sea cliffs slide through gradients of pink and gray light. It’s really special.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Dangerously prone to immediate wanderlust.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Present. This is my happy place and where I go if I need clarity and peace.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Insignificant. I recently had the chance to be very close to gushing lava and my reaction was surprisingly visceral. I often feel a sense of belonging to nature. Like it knows me, and if I’m respectful I will be safeguarded. (That’s not really true of course, but that feeling makes me careful but brave.) With the lava I felt a strong sense of not belonging. It was an interesting first for me.

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Really conscious of time passing, and a determination to make the most of it.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Calm. Happy calm. That might sound counter-intuitive, but I grew up in Florida where thunder was frequent. I think it triggers a sense of nostalgia and well-being for me. It’s definitely the best soundtrack to sleep to.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Introspective. Like change might be coming, either outside or inside myself.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Mostly forest for sure, but forest near the ocean. The smell of salt in the air is one of those simple things that make me feel grounded and deeply satisfied. I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest and I can’t get enough of being near beautiful forests that smell like salt and earth. It’s definitely where I feel most like myself.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10! It’s an enormous part of my identity and the catalyst for most of my self-knowledge.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

My family spent quite a lot of time outdoors. My parents where both school teachers and we lived out of a van in the summers, usually heading north to the Boundary Waters, into Canada, sometimes taking trains further north when there weren’t any roads to take. I didn’t know the term “dirtbagger” then, but we were living that lifestyle to the max every summer of my life. It fundamentally shaped who I am.

One summer we were camping near Au Train, MI and there were northern lights. I was pretty young – maybe six or seven? – but I remember my parents waking me up and giving me a big blanket to wrap up in. Then my dad put me up on top of our van and I remember sitting up on the roof watching the aurora and thinking the world was full of magic.

Proust Nature Questionnaire – My mother

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Families are complicated. After 15 years of tumultuous and often absent communication, my mother and I have mended our differences and picked up where we left off, back to a time when our relationship was what one of a mother-son should be. A lot of who I am today is because of her, even my love of nature.  As a young boy, she always made sure that we spent as much time exploring the shores of the St-Lawrence river or roaming the local woods. I am really grateful for the values and skills she taught me. Thank you mother.

3 words to describe Nature?

Beauty, Respect and Strength

3 things Nature taught you?

That beauty doesn’t cost a thing. That it is the best place for your mind to wander and meditate. That we need to respect it because, simply, we are part of it.

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Close to water so that I can hear the sound of waves or the sound of a running creek. Leaning against a tree so that I can feel its energy. Walking under the rain, even better when it is warm.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

In peace, meditative, and small.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

If alone, I am a bit worried. If I am with others, I feel in harmony, I feel the energy.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

In awe… from far away. But also insecure.

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Happy, calm, mesmerized by the perfect beauty. I am fascinated by how it changes, how it evolves – the colors, shades and forms.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

I simply love hearing thunder! It is so delightful! It is exciting! I want to run outside and watch the storm… from sitting on a chair on a veranda though!

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

I love falling asleep to the sound of the wind whistling. That said, I wouldn’t want to be in a hurricane or tornado – terrifying!

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Water!! Whether the ocean, a river, or a creek.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10. But at the same time, I am not dependant on it to be happy.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

One memory I have is at my grand parents’ chalet, there was a vast field nearby where we gathered wild berries. Another one is by the St-Lawrence River where I spent countless hours playing in tide pools looking for little fish and shells. I also remember loving relaxing in a hammock, looking up to the sky and the top of trees, just letting my imagination run free.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Meredith Shirk

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MEREDITH SHIRK is the founder of Svelte, a multifaceted approach to attaining one’s optimal lifestyle. Shirk is  passionate about achieving peak performance and has consulted for major fitness brands. She is currently developing a line of health food products. She holds a NASM Personal trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist Certifications and is a former 3x All – America collegiate water polo player.

3 words to describe Nature?

Powerful. Unmoving. Serene

3 things Nature taught you?

Sufficiency. Patience. To Be humble

3 most treasured Nature spots?

7 Sisters, Baja Mexico. Open Ocean near West palm beach Florida. Under the ocean

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Calm. Reflective. Grateful

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Small. Appreciative. Awe struck

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Vulnerable. Curious. Amazed

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Happy. Peaceful. Like time has stopped

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Excited. A bit scared. Intrigued

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Nostalgic. Restless. Like I need to nestle in

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

OCEAN 😉

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

12

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

I used to dive the reefs of west palm beach with my father and sisters.  No matter what mood i was in every time i was submerged in the ocean water, everything was calm. One afternoon my dad took me to dive the “Breakers Reef” and I remember diving down to the bottom (maybe 10 feet), and just sitting there.  I was just 13 or 14 years old, but I vividly remember seeing a large group of jacks swimming in front of me. They were HUGE fish, but just so graceful in the water… That moment has stuck with me as I just remember the feeling of being so small in something so vast and beautiful…

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Cody Shirk

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CODY SHIRK is an international investor who sources his deals by one simple method: exploring.

3 words to describe Nature?

Pure, vast, mystery

3 things Nature taught you?

Humility, joy, fear

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Channel Islands (off of California), Baja desert, Central America jungle

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Humbled

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Curious

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Fearful

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Lucky

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Alive

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Aware

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

9

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

I grew up in a rural area of Malibu, CA. I didn’t have any friends that lived close by, so I’d spend most of my days hiking or surfing by myself. On the weekends, I’d often pack a small backpack with water and food. I’d just start walking into the hills, bushwhacking the coastal chaparral and avoiding cactus. I always wanted to know what was around the next corner, because I knew there was a good chance no one had ever walked the ground that I was on. I’ve always like that feeling. The feeling of mystery. Of curiosity. Of knowing that the next corner could be hiding an incredible secret. On one of these hikes, I had probably walked several miles into the hills. It had taken me hours of climbing over rocks, avoiding yucca bushes, and picking ticks off my arms. I was probably 12 years old at the time, so although I was adventurous, I still had that childhood fear of the unknown inside of me. I ended up hiking into a dried up creek bed with sheer stone walls on either side. After walking up the creek bed for a little while I came to a huge rock that was a waterfall during the rainy season. At the base of the waterfall was a small amount of water. I couldn’t hike up the waterfall face and either side was impassible. It was a box canyon. What I didn’t notice was that there was an enormous coyote drinking water from the tiny amount of left over water. It’s grey coat perfectly blended in with the stone background. Frozen in fear, I just looked at the animal. I realized that I had completely blocked it’s exit, and I knew that I was in an extremely vulnerable position. I though the coyote was going to eat me. I just stood there. The coyote finally walked towards me and passed by me within an arms length. It didn’t run and it didn’t avoid me. It just casually walked by while making perfect eye contact. Maybe some kind of mutual understanding.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Michele Benoy-Westmorland

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MICHELE BENOY-WESTMORLAND is a freelance photographer represented by Getty, Corbis, and other major agencies. She is a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers and The Explorers Club. In 2001 she was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. In 2015, she received the NANPA Fellows Award. She has won several awards, including the Environmental Photography Invitational, Photo District News, and the PNG Underwater Photo Competition. Her work has appeared in Outside Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Outdoor Photographer, Scuba Diving, and many other conservation, outdoor, and underwater magazines. She is currently directing her first documentary “Headhunt Revisited”, the story of Caroline Mytinger, an American portrait painter best known for her paintings of indigenous people in the South Seas during the late 1920s.

3 words to describe Nature?

Awakening, spiritual, renewing

3 things Nature taught you?

Humbleness, respect, patience

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea; Cape Nelson, Papua New Guinea; the mountains & forests of the Pacific Northwest

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

You now are asking the right person!  Peaceful, joyful and sometimes sadness in respect to the condition of our ocean environment

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

I feel much the same about the forests as I do the oceans.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Awe, amazement, admiration

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Joyful, thankful, restful

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Amazement, wonderment, sometime surprised with a touch of fear

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel?

Since I lived in Miami during Hurricane Andrew, howling winds always make me feel a little stressed and careful about being outdoors.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

9

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Spending time camping in beautiful forests with my family

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Charlene Winfred

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CHARLENE WINDFRED is a Fujifilm X-Photographer who captures exquisitely the byproduct of a life in perpetual transit. She was born and raised in Singapore. She lived for 15 years in Australia. In 2013, she sold everything and began the life of a nomad.

3 words to describe Nature?

Overwhelming, longing, life

3 things Nature taught you?

That life persists. That death comes for us all. That to be able to walk, to test my body against the earth, is one of the finest abilities I am lucky enough to take for granted (at the moment, anyway)

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Arches National Park. The open ocean. Any inner city park, being the closest I normally get to Nature… sad but true!

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Overwhelmed and calmed at the same time

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Like I want to go for a very long walk and look at everything. This very rarely happens, however.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

I’ve never actually seen one, so I’ll get back to you when I do!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Sunrise – it’s been a while since I’ve seen one of those. Next! Sunset – whenever I’m in a position to see an entire sunset vista, it honestly makes me feel like having a glass of wine.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Glad to be inside!

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Like I want to be outside, running around like a crazy person.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Of the 4, the Ocean has been the only one I can say I’ve been to enough to be familiar with its many moods. I like to think I’d be a mountain person, because I find rocks strangely comforting to be around (and climbing is one of the things I’ve wished I could afford to do since I was a kid), but that could be me romanticizing both mountains and my affinity for them! Again, will get back to you if/when that actually happens.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10, because it’s everything. We can’t live without nature can we?

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

There are no maritime background, or lineage of proud/rogue sailors in my family’s runaway past. My father was a mad keen fisherman though, and that’s probably where my draw to the ocean started. Dad would disappear for days on these extended fishing trips in the South China sea when I was little, bringing back ice chests full of all sorts of fish and a bunch of awesome stories each time (he was a sensational story teller). I begged to go for years and kept being told it would happen as soon as I was old enough.

So that was my 8th birthday present. My parents worried for their small, sickly child out at sea during the onset of the monsoon season, but as Dad would recall about 20 years later, I’d positively flourished in those 5 days. That was the beginning of yearly trips in Malaysian waters.

The things I remember about being at sea: Stormy days – large approaching masses of angry water waiting to eat the boat, securing anything that would fly when being tossed around. Listening to the boat creak and moan woefully in the thrash. Afterwards, small fish roiling on the water as the clouds moved away, far as the eye could see in every direction; a lone marlin worrying a frantic ball of its prey in the water, the glorious still-frame of a sailfish in flight, a line of sunlight gleaming off its saltwater lacquered dorsal fin, down curved flank and flashing off its sickle of tail. The curious, heady mix of brine and diesel fumes (and in this case, old fish) that to me, will always mean “port.”

But what I retain most about those days is staring up at clouds puffing into existence, wavering shards of sunlight converging conical to a point in the water, or at a horizon that was never really still, the way it is on land. I never took to fishing, but it allowed me to spend days dreaming in any available spot on the boat, with or without a rod in hand.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Flemming Bo Jensen

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FLEMMING BO JENSEN is a Fujifilm ambassador, official Red Bull photographer and renowned music photographer. Music, especially electronic music, is a big part of what makes his heart beat. For him, being able to combine music and photography is a dream come true. Since November 2009 he has lived as a nomad. He was the former Head of IT in a Danish Government agency, but wanted to see new horizons and left Copenhagen and his job in 2009. He has been on the road for more than 7 years now, and is still wandering the world, although can usually be found in Copenhagen during the summer months, enjoying the music festivals. He is the author of the ebook GET IN THE LOOP – How To Make Great Music Images.

3 words to describe Nature?

Awe-inspiring. Heals. Home.

3 things Nature taught you?

I was born and brought up on a dairy farm, so here goes: Respect and love for our planet, nature and animals. Where I truly belong. And a cow standing on your 8 year old foot will not move and not care how much it hurts.

– oh as I started traveling, I learned a 4: Nothing more dangerous than a wounded mosquito!

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Arches National Park, Utah, USA. Rottnest Island, Western Australia. My home country and landscapes of Himmerland, Denmark.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

I was born on a farm, not near water so it used to make me feel great fear and a little bit drawn to it at the same time. Now that I learned how to swim and free-dive it still makes me feel fear – but now I want to go in it and explore!

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Peaceful, in a fairy tale, carrying mosquito repellent, afraid we will someday have no more forests.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

I will let you know when I see one!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

I am not a morning person so sunrises are rare, unless they happen at 10am in the Scandinavian winter and I can have a coffee with it! Sunset makes me feel like bliss, like we are given a few minutes glimpse into a possible state of the world if we tried harder to protect nature, a few minutes where everything is alright.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Time to get the cows inside 🙂

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Cold. The wind is always cold in the Nordics.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Desert. I love wide open spaces.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10. My body couldn’t breathe without it. My soul couldn’t live without it.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

I used to take our dogs for long walks down the fields, just to be out there alone (featuring cows), in a wide open space feeling that everything is possible.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Kedyn Sierra

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-10-03-36-amKEDYN SIERRA is W.I.L.D.‘s 1st scholarship recipient. He is an Adventure & Commercial Photographer and Filmmaker, a proud brand ambassador for Guayaki Yerba Mate and sponsored photographer for SOG Knives, Kokatat, Klean Kanteen, Confluence among others. His work has been featured by DPR Construction, NOLS, Voltaic Systems, The Leader, National Geographic Student Expeditions, Environmental Traveling Companions, Klean Kanteen, Sierra Designs, and The Wild Image Project.

3 things Nature taught you?

Humbleness, responsibility, self-worth

3 most treasured Nature spots?

I met a weasel by a small creek in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, I feel absolutely upset that I can’t pinpoint it. The second spot is Raymond Lake on the PCT Trail. I’ve never felt utter pain and exhaustion from a hike so for that it takes second. The last place that comes to mind is Avalas Beach, a small patch where people can kayak into while on Tomales Bay. Avalas shows you the meeting point of the bay and the great pacific ocean.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

I feel calmness from the tranquility of the water. I realize I am simply a piece to a greater magnificent piece of life.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

The forests make me feel immersed.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

When I saw a Volcano (sleeping volcano) I felt on top of the world. 360 view of the landscape definitely feels phenomenal.

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

I feel short on time. The minute the sun sets, the day has ended or begun depending on what’s happening. Sunrises make me appreciate everything because I rarely get to see those.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Thunder makes me feel refreshed.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

When the wind howls it focuses me.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

A Forest person – conditions tend to be unfavorable in the Forest though it’s the only place you can truly feel the way everything is connected to one another.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

I would put a 10 to Nature for my well-being. Without it, I can’t seem to understand anything.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

My family was born into a minimalist lifestyle in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula. I was raised around animals, cows, turkeys, chickens, ducks, cats, dogs amongst others. It wasn’t in a farm environment but rather heavy forest. The memory of the endless roaming with the imagination of a bliss kid was absolutely phenomenal and short lived.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire – Ayelet Baron

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AYELET BARON is the visionary author behind Our Journey to Corporate Sanity: Transformational Stories from the Frontiers of 21st Century. Prior to being a speaker, coach, workshop facilitator, and committed to making a transformational impact on business, Baron was an Innovator-in-Residence in Roche/Genentech’s Strategic Innovation Product Development organization, and a Chief Strategy Officer for Cisco Canada.

3 words to describe Nature?

Humans. Grounding. Reality. We are nature; nature is grounding; nature ground us in reality.

3 things Nature taught you?  

To appreciate beauty as is. To recognize the life force in animals, plants and humans. To remember to follow nature in business – a time to plant, a time to water, a time to nurture and a time to harvest.

3 most treasured Nature spots? 

Diving in Fiji – the most spectacular underwater park; white sands of Turks and Caicos, and the deep blue Mediterranean Sea.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?  

At peace. The whole experience of the beauty and infinity of the ocean from looking to listening to breathing it in is exhilarating.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…? 

In awe imagining what the trees have witnessed while we simply pass by in a flash. The conversations they must be having must be incredible as they show us what a connected network truly is.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…? 

The fire within each of us that can tip over at any moment and that emotions are natural if we allow them to be expressed

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…? 

The cycle of life and death, with the depth of colors and opportunities

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…? 

The power of nature to make a statement and bring clarity

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…? 

Alive and attune with reality

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person? 

Ocean first but I love them all … what could be better than an ocean with a mountain, forest and/or desert? I have had the pleasure of experiencing many breathtaking combinations

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being? 

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory? 

I will always remember the first time I walked through an orange orchard in Israel when I was 6 years old and got to pick oranges from the tree. That smell of the orange buds has stayed with me forever. Then, my grandfather retired and bought an almond orchard and as a kid, I spent hours peeling the two cases of almonds and organizing them in neat piles. It helped me appreciate the source of our nutrients and also sparked a love of creation with cooking naturally. I always need to know where the food we consume comes from in nature.

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Proust Nature Questionnaire- Connor Beaton

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CONNOR BEATON is the founder of ManTalks, an international organization focused on mens health, wellness, success and fulfillment. Connor is an international speaker, podcast host, Business Coach and lifestyle entrepreneur. Before founding ManTalks, Connor worked with Apple leading high performance sales and operations teams. Since founding ManTalks, Connor has spoken on stage at TEDx, taken ManTalks to over a dozen cities internationally and has been featured on platforms like HeForShe, The Good Men Project, UN Women, CBC, CNN, the National Post and more.

3 words to describe Nature?

Breathtaking, God, understanding.

3 things Nature taught you?

Resiliency, humility and the ability to be in the present.

3 most treasured Nature spots?

The cliffs and beaches on the Amalfi coast in Italy, Camping at lake Garibaldi in BC & Secret Beach in Kauai, Hawaii

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Connected to myself, calm and at peace.

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Strength and comfort simultaneously.

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Powerful and in awe

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Humbled by life existence.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Somehow always surprised and reminded of how small we are.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Connected to everything

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Forest & ocean. I can’t choose just one. My favourite place to be is facing the forest with the ocean sounds at my back.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

9

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Proust Nature Questionnaire- Erick Tseng

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ERICK TSENG is a Product Director at Facebook where he oversees product management for the company’s global advertising growth and solutions. Erick joined Facebook in May 2010 as the Head of Mobile Products.

3 words to describe Nature?

Magical, beautiful, essential

3 things Nature taught you?

To take risks, how much beauty there is in the world, how fragile our existence is on this earth

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Yosemite, Galapagos, Himalayas

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Small

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Fresh

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Empowered

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Calm

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Excited

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Cold

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Traveling to a beach near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and going tide-pooling amongst the rocks. I loved looking for little fish, crabs, and mussels tucked away in the shallow waters. I’d also collect fresh seaweed, and my mother would clean it up, and cook seaweed pork soup that night. Delicious!

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Erick and his wife, Rachel, in Antarctica. In 2015

Proust Nature Questionnaire – Chip Conley

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At the end of the nineteenth century, a teenage Marcel Proust answered a series of questions in a confession album that belong to his friend Antoinette, daughter of future French President Félix Faure. The original manuscript of his answers, titled “by Marcel Proust himself” was discovered in 1924 and auctioned for €102,000 on May 27, 2003.

The format of the questionnaire has since became a popular reference when wanting to find out more about the personality of an interviewee. The questions have been used by French television host Bernard Pivot, James Lipton from the Actor’s Studio and the magazine Vanity Fair.

I decided to adapt the questions with the goal of finding out what Nature means to people.

Starting today, and for every Friday forward, I will be publishing the PROUST NATURE QUESTIONNAIRE.

To begin this new project, here is hospitality entrepreneur, bestselling author and TED Featured Speaker, Chip Conley.

Honored with the 2012 Pioneer Award – hospitality’s highest accolade – The San Francisco Business Times named Chip the Most Innovative CEO. He received his BA and MBA from Stanford University and holds an Honorary Doctorate in Psychology from Saybrook University. Chip served on the Glide Memorial Board for nearly a decade and received its Cecil Williams Legacy Award in 2015. He is now on the boards of the Burning Man Project and the Esalen Institute, where the Conley Bookstore opened in 2016.

3 words to describe Nature?

Spiritual, cleansing, awe-provoking

3 things Nature taught you? 

Animism: everything has spirit; there are forces way bigger than me; “discover the pace of nature”

3 most treasured Nature spots? 

A deserted beach in Baja, the Ventana wilderness in Big Sur, a quiet rice paddy field in Baja

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…? 

The vastness: there’s so much above and below the surface to explore, I wish I had many lifetimes to do this

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…? 

Trees breathing with me and the phenomenally complex and beautiful eco-system

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…? 

Metaphor for powerful human emotions

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…? 

The end is also the beginning

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…? 

There is nowhere to hide

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…? 

I’m reminded of the stunning scene in American Beauty when the two teenagers are staring at the video of the plastic bag in the wind…wind creates life

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person? 

I can’t say I’m only one of these but if I had to choose one, it would be Ocean.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being? 

9

Share with us a childhood nature memory? 

I remember staring at a live starfish on the beach I’d found and realized how much life was under the sea.

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New Beginnings

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In 1952, unusual circumstances came together and paralyzed one of the busiest cities of Europe. Heavy foggy days were no stranger to the residents of London, but on December 4th, the metropolis found itself suffocating, literally. An anticyclone landed on the region, bringing high pressure and causing temperature aversion. Cold air found itself trapped under a thick layer of warm air. Normally the winds would have pushed the system out, but this time they were simply no were to be found – the air was as stagnant as molasses. In the weeks prior to the event, cold weather had led the Londoners to burn a lot more coal that normally, increasing the presence of sulphur dioxide in the air. Added the carbon dioxide from vehicle exhausts and the hydrochloric acid and fluorine compounds from various industries, London quickly became engulfed within a lethargic yellow-black coloured concentrated acid haze. In the weeks that followed, around 4,000 people died. It is believed that as many as 12,000 fatalities might have been attributed to the “Great Smog of 1952”.

Each of us, at one point or another, have lived our own version of the “Great Smog”. It is not a feeling of being lost. It is rather a sense of powerlessness created by circumstances that are beyond your control. The ingredients you need to power your imagination, your body, or your drive, disappear. While yesterday you might have roam the land of creativity freely, today, your mind is shackled and focused on breaking away from the burden that has taken over.

Monet stopped painting for two years after his wife passed away. Picasso was so affected by the divorce from his first wife who took custody of their son and the birth of his daughter to a mistress that he no longer spent time in his studio.

These past twelve months for me will be known as my “Creative Great Smog”. Though I married the most amazing, awesome and phenomenal woman and found myself absolutely fulfilled when it comes to love and family, my creativity and career however can be summarized in two words – inertia and sluggish. A quick look at my blog and social media feed and the obvious is plain to see. Almost a year since the last entry. A little over eleven months of sparse and random posts. 338 days of stalled artistry, looking for inspiration and not finding it.

While the reasons for my disappearance are simple, the process of rebuilding took time and energy. Just like a tornado that destroyed your house, before you can start thinking of interior design and what will go on the walls, you first need to clear the rubble. Once the terrain is cleared, then it is time to rebuild the foundations. You need to reconnect the power and repair the sewer. You put the walls up and the roof over, but still, you are nowhere near inviting people over for dinner. Step by step, little by little, your new house takes shape. The furniture comes in and finally the sense of home returns. Soon, you start making phone calls inviting friends over. One evening, you find yourself sitting at the dining table surrounded by loved ones, your life filled with laughter and happiness once again.

Standing on the porch of my new house (conceptually speaking) on a beautiful morning, I am mentally shuffling through the events that took place under my previous roof. There are thousands and thousands of memories that I know now belong to a bygone era. The year 2016 was the end of a cycle, the epilogue of a book, the conclusion of an energy that started a long time ago.

Every end marks a new beginning

Watching the sun rise as a new day begins, I am pondering on the journey that lies ahead. My blank canvas is ready to be painted. My creativity is back and like a snake that has shed its old skin, my mind is clear and fresh, primed for a new adventure. There is so much to be grateful for, the most important being my wife. Yes! I am truly excited for the future.

This year, I commit to more writing, more public speaking, expanding my outreach and more art. There will be new expeditions and, of course, I invite you to come along and share with me this new voyage of discovery, growth and love.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.Joseph Campbell

Nature Meditation – CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN

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“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal

The backpack sits heavy on my shoulders. In front of me the mountain stands tall. Beyond its peak, a cloudless sky foretells the added struggle the sun will bring to the ascent. It is amazing how something so desirable can become so detrimental. On any other day I would welcome this bright star shining down on me, but right now, my mind is filled with fantasies of giant clouds rolling in from beyond the horizon, spreading themselves over my head and taking away this sunny encumbrance. I close my eyes and dream of shade. Its cool and refreshing embrace which would boost my endurance and somehow magically make the load on my back much lighter.

I take a deep breath and murmur: “It is what it is! Tonight, I will be closer to the stars, sleeping at the summit, with a breathtaking view of the valley and a front row seat for sunrise tomorrow.”

The beginning is always treacherously easy. My body is full of energy and my mind swimming in optimism. The trail is wide and the inclination barely steeper than a regular hike. From down below, the climb appears as an imaginary line traced over a terrain that makes no difference between a solid slab of granite or a loose patch of igneous rocks.

Another deep breathe, another murmur: “It doesn’t look too difficult. It should take me about 3 hours”

In reality, as much as I want to believe I am in possession of all the information I need, as much as I want to predict the outcome, my knowledge and understanding of the endeavor is simply speculative. The truth is that I can only prepare myself for the expected and be ready for the unexpected.

Over the next 4 hours, I will trip twice. I will stop to rest more times than my pride wants to admit. I will wonder on several occasions why I thought it would be a good idea to go sleep at the top of the mountain. Five times I will look at my watch and ask myself how much longer is it going to take. In the last hour, my mind will repeat over and over: “Just one more step, I am almost there.” During the entire ascent, I will analyze mentally the content of my backpack, inside out, and wonder what gear I could have left behind to shed some weight, or what I could have done differently to alleviate the challenge.

But as I reach the summit, my sight is suddenly free to fly across the valley and my feeling of struggle disappears. Exhaustion and pain become something of the past, and all this released tension slingshots back, filling me with pure exhilaration and a deep sense of accomplishment. “I made it!” – a whisper escapes my lips.

Barely rested and refreshed, I look in all directions and rejoice at the view with all the new possibilities laid before my eyes. Today’s goal might have been about completing this ascent, but for my desire in seeking new experiences, it is only an episode. For my relentless curiosity and unwavering need to learn, today’s challenge was a simple lesson about myself and life.

This week, let us reflect on the places we want to go, the things we want to achieve, the goals we want to fulfill. Are we focused only on reaching these destinations or are we fully aware and connected with the process of moving forward. Are we open to the lessons and discoveries that will present themselves to us, in sometimes the most unexpected ways? Do we truly understand that these goals, these objectives, these places we want to go are only the gateway to other new adventures?

“For life–which is in any way worthy, is like ascending a mountain. When you have climbed to the first shoulder of the hill, you find another rise above you, and yet another peak, and the height to be achieved seems infinity: but you find as you ascend that the air becomes purer and more bracing, that the clouds gather more frequently below than above, that the sun is warmer than before and that you not only get a clearer view of Heaven, but that you gain a wider view of earth, and that your horizon is perpetually growing larger.” Endicott Peabody

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift, Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit

Nature Meditation – ONWARD FORWARD LET IT GO

meditation

“You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one” Michael McMillan

I would like to start this year with an excerpt from my book – FEEL THE WILD

After years living in New York City I was still trying to find my place, my tribe, my purpose. I worked in an office and performed a job I had no passion for. Day after day, I acted my way through the part, feeling as if I didn’t have enough to give to my work. And I didn’t. I wasn’t energized by my work; I was drained by it. Like a stabled horse, I wanted out. I needed to find that child within, to be alive once more. So I called it quits. 

I sold everything, bought a camera, and persuaded some companies to help fund my equipment. I took out a world map, put my finger on New York, and started moving south until I reached Patagonia. This land had been many things to many people. For Magellan and Drake, it was the land of giants. For Darwin, it was a place that would change his life. For French author and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Patagonia was his muse. And for writers Chatwin and Theroux, it was their salvation. For me, this vast land, these million square kilometers of mountains, rivers, canyons, steppes, ocean coasts, and unbelievable skies, would perhaps bring me back from the depths of unhappiness. Patagonia is where my story began.

I was standing on a beach at Punta Norte, on the Valdes Peninsula in the Chubut Province, a place famous for orcas that beach themselves to snatch young, careless sea lion pups. Looking out and watching black fins knifing the shallow waters, I unexpectedly started to feel like I was choking. I don’t know why. I can’t explain what happened to me. Instead of giving in to the anxiety of the moment, I gathered my wits and took a really deep breath. I felt the south wind pushing its way into me. This cold air had traveled north from Antarctica, passed Tierra del Fuego, followed the rugged coast of Argentina, and now settled into my lungs. And with this new breath of icy air came a release. It was as if I was taking my first breath. My lungs opened up, like the petals of a flower stretching out to receive all the light around it. And I felt a sudden awareness, as if I was unexpectedly waking up after decades of hibernation…”

The part missing from the text is that none of it happened the way I had planned. In fact my trip to Argentina was so ill prepared that I had to cancel my original plan. I had overestimated the challenges and ridiculously overpacked. To say that I was in over my head is an understatement. Facing my foolishness and immaturity, I surrendered to my predicament. Letting my pride take the back seat, I reassessed everything and improvised. Six months later, I emerged transformed.

None of my expeditions have happened the way I wanted. In fact barely anything in my life goes according to plan. But every time I find myself in the unexpected, I let go, adapt, learn, and grow stronger. The truth is that my most cherish possessions, my most beautiful discoveries, and my most precious friendships have all appeared from these dark places where I thought nothing was working.

On December 31st, I was listening to Shankar Vedantam, host of Hidden Brain, concluding the story “Life’s Many Codas: Maya Shankar’s Path From Juilliard To The White House

“… all of us have chapters in our lives that close and when they do, especially if it is a chapter that we have known and love for a long time, it can feel like the whole book is over, that there is nothing left to do, maybe even nothing left to live for. But I think each of us has stories in our lives that reflect the fact that the people we are today are not the same people we were only a few years ago. We often underestimate our capacity to reinvent ourselves… the things that distinguished humans from other species is our remarkable capacity to adapt to different conditions, differing situations… it isn’t about our physical abilities, it is really about the mind and each year around this time, we need to remind ourselves that when one door closes, we have the ability to find other doors to open…”

Whatever has happened to us last year, the year before, 10 years ago, or even as a child decades earlier, we must let go. The goal of the Past is to learn from it, not to hold on to it. What I wish for you in 2016 is to shed the old skin, to let go of the unnecessary, to release the burden, the guilt and these negative attachments and march ahead, chin up, and confident. We are alchemists, we have the ability to turn iron into gold, to grow from the most challenging and painful. We are resilient! Onward and Forward!

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit

 

Nature Meditation – SHADOWS

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“Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living.” Thomas Browne

There is only a sliver of the sun peaking above the crest of the mountains. For the past thirty minutes, I have been watching this disc of light descend, slowly closing the gap between itself and the horizon. Within the next seconds this star that illuminates the world around me will disappear, taking along with it, the light that dominates and structures our lives. Colors will fade; what used to be a dynamic world of hues will turn into a monotone landscape. I wonder if perhaps the reason why the sky becomes so colorful during sunrises and sunsets is because it shows the migration of Colors. These particles of light fly with the sun and bond themselves to anything that vibrates at the same frequency. In the morning, they precede the sun and announce the arrival of the day. In the evening, they are the last ones to leave, making us long for their return.

Behind me, my shadow grows. Seemingly alive, this imprint of myself, this silhouette of my existence, expands, reaches across the air, and spreads over the land. While my physical presence is trapped within the confines of this body, it is its  shadow that goes beyond and connects with the world. With the sun now gone, my shadow merges with all the others and together, immersed within Earth’s shady embrace, we become one.

The light is powerful. It gives us the ability to see and define our environment. It warms and protects us. It allows us to control our path. With it, we can plan, analyze, create, and build. Because of it, we can breathe and feed ourselves. But light also carries a burden. It isolates. It categorizes. Instead of unleashing our consciousness, it buries it under an sea of judgments. We might be living on a planet that is part of a vast Universe, but during the day, when we look up to the sky, we see none of our connection to the Beyond. What we see is a blanket of fluffiness, a blue cover that appeases and hypnotizes us. What we don’t see is our place amongst the stars. What we don’t see is the Truth.

It is only when stepping into the shadow of the Earth that the Universe is revealed.

In the shadows we might loose our sight, but we gain more intimate senses. Our hearing opens up. Our smell tunes in. Control gives way to intuition. Instead of going outward, we must journey inward. Instead of reaching out and introducing ourselves, we must become vulnerable and let the world in. In the darkness we process, contemplate, and dream; in the absence of light, all and everything is equal.

Today, technology is the light – our lives are defined by it. While there are amazing benefits to its capacity, we must remind ourselves that the beauty of our species and the Truth about Life does not reside under a microscope or laid out in an algorithm. Lovecompassionfriendship, and community live in this place called Intimacy; in the shadow of technology.

We must ask ourselves: do we want to live in an emotional arid world much like a desert where the sun destroys everything and where shade offers you life and a sanctuary? Or would we rather choose a world that nurtures both intimacy and technology, each valued and protected, not one at the expense of the other?

As the year ends, lets reflect on our own intimacy and what lies beyond ourselves. Do we seek the light and let technology govern our lives because we are afraid of facing our humanity? If the stars are only revealed at night, if the Milky Way can only be seen in the absence of light, how much of ourselves are we missing by avoiding our own shadows?

I wish you Merry Christmas, a wonderful Holiday season, and an amazing New Year.

Find your inner fire, don’t be afraid of being alone, get lost, see what you want to see, exist through others, roar like a lion, breathe the world in, find your balance, celebrate life, and be vulnerable.

I will see you back in 2016.

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


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EYES IN THE DARK
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190 pages of wilderness and nature through the lens and words of storyteller Daniel Fox

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Nature Meditation – HYGGE

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“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Little Prince

There are thousands of them, sparks of ember rising from the fire and flying into the night sky. Their incandescence leaves traces against the darkness – erratic tapestry of temporary glowing streaks. My stare, previously locked on the burning logs, starts moving up. It picks up on a particular spark and follows it as it ascends and reaches to the stars. My imaginary mind can’t hold itself and creatively realizes that it has figured out where stars come from – millions of tiny embers from millions of campfires, over millions of years, that have flown high into the universe and settled. Once, these tiny Beings of Fire warmed our hearts, bodies, hands and skin; but now, hanging up above and out of reach, they warm our souls and make us dream about the infinite possibilities that lie beyond.

Around the campfire, friends are gathered. Through the grapevines, I hear many conversations. To my right, people are talking about the fish caught earlier, the same fish that we are now cooking on hot stones just inches away from the fire. There is a salty and crispy barbecue aroma lingering around that is tantalizing and torturing our hungry stomachs.

To my left, I can hear the excitement in recounting the day paddle of discovery, exploring two nearby bays – there was a great heron that was croaking at us, annoyed at having his secret stash of food disturbed. There was also the sight of a marauding mink, nearby rocks that were covered with seaweed and barnacles, sometimes going for a swim and diving for crabs. A family of deer grazing on a field, tucked between trees, was looking at us probably wondering why would any creature wear so many bright different colors and carry such a distinct plasticky scent.

In front of me across the fire, I can’t hear what the other people are talking about. I might not be able to hear their words but their bodies are speaking loud and clear. I can see the happiness on their faces. I see the glow of Life in their eyes. Their hands waving in the air with excitement.

For a minute, I contemplate at the impact fire has had on our evolution, not only transforming our eating habits, but also  – and I would argue even more importantly – transforming the way we interact. Beyond the purpose of hunting and security, it brought people together. Fire staged the birth for storytelling and laid the foundation to building communities. It created a place in time for people to bond, share, and connect. Here, in the outdoors, surrounded by a world that pre-existed me, I am connecting and bonding to my fellow humans and to nature in the same way that my ancestors did a million years ago.

The Danish have a word for the overall emotion that runs within my body: Hygge (pronounced ‘hYOOguh’), a deep satisfying state of well-being, a happiness that is rooted in being with others, enjoying life, living in the moment, eating, celebrating, and conversing. Looking around the campfire and seeing all of this love and happiness flowing, I come to understand how this word has become a cultural pride and the core of their identity.

Christmas and the holidays are a time to be Hygge. It is a time to stop and reconnect. A time to leave behind the worries and to celebrate life and the people that surround us.

This week, as we prepare ourselves to visit or receive our families and friends, lets take a moment to meditate on the joy and laughs these people have brought us, these memories of happiness that have happened over a good dinner or by a crackling fire in the chimney.

“Just living isn’t enough,” said the butterfly. “One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen, Danish Author

Read more about Hygge on NPR or BBC

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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MORNING ROTHKO
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FEEL THE WILD – eBOOK!

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190 pages of wilderness and nature through the lens and words of storyteller Daniel Fox

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A set of 30 photos to use as a screen saver for your iPhone or Android.

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A set of 40 photos to use as a screen saver for your computer, desktop or laptop.

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Nature Meditation – TE NO UCHI

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Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

It is a stormy day. The winds are blowing hard from the Pacific. The sky, which was blue and limitless yesterday, is now obstructed by dark clouds that loom over my head in a threatening manner. The ocean, which was calm and smoothing only 12 hours ago, is now pounding on the rocks with fury and in a thunderous crash. Amidst this chaotic landscape, sea gulls and terns glide with ease; a tip of a wing there, and one bird zooms across only inches above a breaking wave. These creatures have truly mastered the art of moving through the air, riding the invisible currents with finesse and grace.

Far out in the open I noticed a cargo ship pushing its way through — probably heading for a long ocean crossing — delivering goods to Asia. This beast of steel is defying the elements. Its immense volume is keeping it afloat. At its stern under water and hidden away, petals of metal are propelling it forward, while at its bow, the hull is clashing with the waves; steel against water, solidity against fluidity!

While the cargo ship and sea birds couldn’t be more different and representing a total opposite philosophy of moving through life, the two are actually relying and operating on the exact same core fundamental “tension”. Neither would exist without it. The ship would sink. Its steel would liquefy. The bird would fall. Its feathers would disappear. It is tension that keeps them together. It is tension that makes them move.

Just like the tree that stands tall, the sail that holds the wind, the rock on which I am now sitting, the legs that carry me, the beating of my heart, the sound of my voice, the neurons firing in my brain, the light that comes in through my eyes, the caress of a lover, a helping hand, or even this planet that hosts me and this sun that warms me; each fundamentally exist out of tension, at an intersection, a place where a particular force ends and another begins.

Tension is Nature. It is Life. It is the DNA of everything that is. It creates energy. It is movement and resistance. It is creation and destruction. It is a pause through which life emerges. And the absence of it is Death.

Life is a dynamic journey filled with endless forces. Some of those you will see coming, others will leave you in shock. The goal is not to avoid the resulting tensions but rather to move with them, accept them, embrace them, flourish with them. Understand their necessity and power of transformation.

The Japanese have an expression – Te No Uchi, which originates from finding the perfect sword grip, one that is strong enough so that it can resist a blow, but light enough so that it can be agile and responsive. Today the words are used to express the mastery one has in maintaining the right amount of tension, independently of the forces at play.

This week, whether at work or while doing a headstand, lets take a moment to meditate on the tensions that surround us. Am I a bird? Moving with ease and grace, going with the flow, and using the least amount of energy. Or am I a cargo ship? Plowing my way through, strong and steady but demanding great effort. In this era of change, how can we maintain enough tension so that we can sustain any upcoming challenges while at the same time be flexible enough so that we don’t crack under pressure?

Stillness is not the absence of tensions but rather a harmony within them

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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MORNING RAIN
Summit Powder Mountain
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Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks,
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FEEL THE WILD – eBOOK!

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190 pages of wilderness and nature through the lens and words of storyteller Daniel Fox

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW

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Smart Phone SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

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A set of 30 photos to use as a screen saver for your iPhone or Android.

Resolution: 1334 x 750, 100dpi

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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A set of 40 photos to use as a screen saver for your computer, desktop or laptop.

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Nature Meditation – BREATHING IN, BREATHING OUT

“Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

My diaphragm contracts creating a vacuum within my lungs that sucks in the air, bringing in the molecules of oxygen on which my survival depends. These two organs, each the size of a football, protected under my rib cage, contain more than 1500 miles of airways. This intricate system of organic conduits in various sizes carries the Earth’s gas all the way to 700 million plus microscopic look alike broccoli head called alveoli. These anatomical structures, in turn, perform an action that has defined the very nature of life since the beginning of time: they take and give back. Oxygen is stripped away from the air, and carbon dioxide is returned. As my diaphragm relaxes, it forces the lungs to release a breath of equal proportion but now of a different composition. My exhale will feed a different kind of organism which will proceed in a reverse manner; delivering oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide.

The output of one is the input of another. And the output from the other is the very same input to the first one.

Every time I inhale, every time I exhale, I am reminded of my interdependence in a reciprocal cycle that has been going on for millions of years. Each molecule that enters my body, has been recycled billions of times, breathed in and breathed out by living and past species for eons, and will be for eons more.

My lungs are the embodiment of this reciprocity. Their main purpose is to connect me with the universe, and with nature. To take from it and give back. As much as one would want this to be a one-way relationship, it is simply impossible to exist without participating. Breathing in is taking from nature, and breathing out is giving back to nature. The more I breathe in, the more I breathe out. The more I take, the more I give back.

“There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life — reciprocity.” Confucius

In our existence, if our bodies are a product of reciprocity, what then will happen if we isolate and disconnect ourselves from the natural world? If the brain has evolved in face of challenges to solve, if our capacity to learn exists only because of our necessity to adapt, then what will we become if we let technology do everything for us? If we forgo the sensuous realm of our senses, are we consequently setting the stage for their disappearance?

This week, lets meditate on our breath and its transcending dynamic. Let’s reflect on our senses and their reciprocal existence. Are we breathing in more than we are breathing out? Is it time for us to let go of our breathe and give back?

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%. 

CLIMATE CHANGE or STOCK MARKET?
Big Island of Hawaii, Volcano
25″ x 40″ Digital Photography
Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks,
Printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g
$750 (minus 15%) + shipping

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FEEL THE WILD – eBOOK!

$9.75, plus shipping

190 pages of wilderness and nature through the lens and words of storyteller Daniel Fox

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW

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Smart Phone SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$8.75

A set of 30 photos to use as a screen saver for your iPhone or Android.

Resolution: 1334 x 750, 100dpi

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW


Desktop SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

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A set of 40 photos to use as a screen saver for your computer, desktop or laptop.

Resolution: 2560 x 1440, 100dpi, each

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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Nature Meditation – ARE YOU A CHEETAH OR A LION?

“… the speed is the problem because it prevents us from reflecting where we want to go and how we want to get there.” Christian Seelos, author of “Innovate and Scale: A Tough Balancing Act”

This animal is pure beauty! It is truly a phenomenal feat of Nature’s engineering. Everything in its body has evolved following one simple logic: how to maximize the intake while minimizing the losses, so that it can deliver the quickest and fastest output. Its large nostrils increase the oxygen flow. Its lungs and heart, size for size 3 1/2 times that of a lion, work together to move and process oxygen more quickly and efficiently. Its bones are light, legs are fine and elongated, chest deep and waist narrow. This creature’s entire anatomy is built around one purpose: powerful bursts of speed. Within 3 seconds, the cheetah can reach 60 mph (96 km/h). Its maximum speed is 75 mph (120 km/h), the fastest for any land animal. Watching this majestic Felinae in action, zooming across the savanna, leaves any witness stunned with admiration. Its delivery of power with such agility is simply magnificent.

But this evolutionary strategy has come at a tremendous cost. For the sake of speed, the cheetah has had to position itself into a survival niche that is extremely fragile, has little room for error and comes with serious side effects. Its hunting strategy, while quite extraordinary, can’t be sustained for very long. With so much energy focus on one prey, there isn’t much room left for plan B. Its compact and undersized muscle mass makes it hard for the cheetah to go after large prey, instead focusing on the smaller ones. When successful in its hunt, the wild cat is so tired that it has to wait up to 30 minutes before eating, putting itself at risk for other more powerful and opportunistic predators. Hunting at such speed also makes collaboration challenging so, consequently, most cheetah hunt alone. Sight is their predominant sense making them diurnal hunters – as scent is not the most efficient of senses at high speed. Finally, with all the energy in one basket, little is left to defend itself, so it is no surprise that the cheetah is the more productive breeder of all the big cats, counting on a high number of cubs to assure at least one survivor. Within the family of Felidae, the cheetah is the most vulnerable species and the least capable of adapting to new environments.

The lion, on the other hand, has opted for a more social and balanced strategy: social structure being at the core of their evolutionary survival. They are not the fastest runners but they can defend themselves. They often hunt alone but will gather in a large group when needed. When they do, their communal hunts are organized and strategic. Their sight, scent and hearing are equally sharp, giving them the advantage at night. Being social, lions are known for their wide range of communication. Not the best at one thing, but great at so many, it is no surprise that the lion is culturally known as the “King of the Jungle.”

The cheetah and lion’s comparison is greatly insightful when we apply it to our modern and post-industrial society. Technology is all about speed, innovating at an exponential pace leaving us in a constant state of catching up. Elevating the individual over the group, we feel isolated. We complain about having no time and convince ourselves we need to go faster, do everything faster and live faster. While the benefits of living such a life are enticing and exciting, we are putting ourselves into a vary narrow survival niche that has little room for error.

This week, let’s meditate on the pace on which we live our lives. Am I, are you, are we a Cheetah? Or a Lion? Do our values protect and nurture a slower, more balanced and social lifestyle? Or a lifestyle of individuality and speed at the expense of everything else?

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%. 

OWL ON A BRANCH
Argentina
25″ x 40″ Digital Photography
Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks,
Printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g
$750 (minus 15%) + shipping

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FEEL THE WILD – eBOOK!

$9.75, plus shipping

190 pages of wilderness and nature through the lens and words of storyteller Daniel Fox

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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Smart Phone SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$8.75

A set of 30 photos to use as a screen saver for your iPhone or Android.

Resolution: 1334 x 750, 100dpi

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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Desktop SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$9.75

A set of 40 photos to use as a screen saver for your computer, desktop or laptop.

Resolution: 2560 x 1440, 100dpi, each

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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Nature Meditation – UBUNTU

… a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.” Desmond Tutu

Sitting on a log, with my head slightly tilted forward, I noticed an ant on the ground moving among the pine needles; the same needles that at some point resided on the tree. Once, they fed a wooded giant by collecting sunlight and capturing the air; now, they create an obstacle of monumental proportion to a species 2,000 times smaller than me.

The beauty in the moment was filled on a total different level; when alive and green, these coniferous leaves were the benefit of one organism; now dead and brown, they were finding a new purpose. Fallen and released from their host, their collective shear number covered the ground and acted as a blanket that kept the heat trapped under. The heat was necessary to energize the micro organisms that fed on organic matter, needles included. Decomposed and turned into nutrients, these needles were now feeding the soil, the same soil in which the tree was rooted, the same soil from which the tree fed itself from.

Nature is an endless cycle of dependency and duality: the needles wouldn’t exist without the tree and the tree wouldn’t exist without the needles. The soil wouldn’t exist without the trees and the trees wouldn’t exist without the soil. Nothing in the world exists by itself, everything and everyone “is” because of its relationship to another, or to others. This understanding of life is at the core of the South African philosophy, Ubuntu – “I am because of You”, “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

While it’s true that Africa is a harsh place, I also know it to be a place whose people, animals and ecosystems teach us about a more interconnected world…” Boyd Varty

It is hard to look at what happened in Paris last week and see that our lives are not only deeply connected to the ones who perished in the event but also to the ones who committed the crimes. Without taking away the severity of the atrocity perpetrated mercilessly, we must surrender to the reality that these actions happened only because they are part of a bigger, connected, and an unfortunate vicious cycle, one in which we all participate.

“You are who you are because of me.” “They are who they are because of us.” 

Understanding the reciprocity of life is crucial if we wish to learn how to prevent future condemnable acts of extreme violence. And the place to start is within ourselves. This week, lets meditate on the past, moments in our lives where we felt attacked, disrespected, or accused; moments of anger, frustration and impatience. If the world is in reciprocity with who I am, if my surroundings is a mirror to my being, am I then a source of love and compassion? Am I inviting kindness and forgiveness or am I creating the exact monster I am now battling?

“So Ubuntu — for us it means that the world is too small, our wisdom too limited, our time here too short, to waste any more of it in winning fleeting victories at other people’s expense.” Bill Clinton

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%. 
PELICANS & CALLIGGRAPHY.
Baja California, Mexico
25″ x 40″ Digital Photography Montage
Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks,
Printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g
$750 (minus 15%) + shipping

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FEEL THE WILD – eBOOK!

$9.75, plus shipping

190 pages of wilderness and nature through the lens and words of storyteller Daniel Fox

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW

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Smart Phone SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$8.75

A set of 30 photos to use as a screen saver for your iPhone or Android.

Resolution: 1334 x 750, 100dpi

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW


Desktop SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$9.75

A set of 40 photos to use as a screen saver for your computer, desktop or laptop.

Resolution: 2560 x 1440, 100dpi, each

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW

Nature Meditation – SEEING WHAT WE WANT TO SEE

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”Arthur Schopenhauer

I am standing atop a mountain, looking out, mesmerized. The landscape upon which my eyes are feasting is an  intense dynamic sea of clouds. There are clouds below  in the valley rising up, as if the ground was boiling. There are clouds above in the sky that grow exponentially and create an unexpected optical illusion, like fractals  expanding continuously, yet occupying the same space. Then there are clouds in front of me, blanketing the horizon, covering the slopes of countless mountains, their peaks appearing and disappearing like floating islands playing hide and seek in an ocean of cotton balls.

Staring and contemplating, I am reminded of the fog in San Francisco, a living entity that rolls over the hills, blown from the Pacific and playing tricks on the Bay’s inhabitants. Its magical powers are undeniably formidable. Its mastery in the art of illusion is irrefutable. Some days, it manages to make the entire Golden Gate Bridge disappear. On other days, it hides the city of San Francisco, one of America’s largest cities, behind such a thick opaque white curtain that for anyone sitting on the shores of Marin County or Berkeley, nothing can be seen except for a giant wall of nothingness.

On such a day, imagine what it would mean if you knew nothing of this area. Passing by, driving north or south on Highway 80, your experience of this location would be reduced to seeing a seemingly boring landscape, nothing more than a white horizontal veil spreading in all directions. When in fact, behind the fog lies one of the most powerful and iconic cities in the world.

Every time I see clouds, or fog, I think about all the treasures, worlds of wonder, truths and realities that remain hidden, away from our existence, away from our consciousness. Not because they are unreachable and unattainable, but only because we let ourselves be blinded by something that is nothing more than a smoke screen. Over the course of my life; through my ups and downs, successes and failures, gains and losses, I have come to understand how this insight from nature is at the core of my life journey and the foundation to my happy life. What we choose to believe, what we choose to see and hear, is only a perspective of a much bigger reality. A perspective that is defined by our chosen beliefs, values, and fears. In other words, what we see is what we want to see. We believe what we want to believe.

Yet these narratives we create are like the clouds that magically take away mountains, bridges, and cities from our visual realm. The limitations and boundaries we perceive are nothing more than an illusion, a perspective relative to a wide range of pre-conceived notions.

When I look up to the sky, I see the clouds that hide the blue atmosphere behind. When I do see the blue sky, I am blinded of the Universe that lays beyond. At night, when I look up and marvel at the sky saturated with stars, the gargantuan and unimaginable world of wonders that exist beyond, outside of our realm of comprehension, still remains hidden to me. When I look at someone, despite being able to see them, touch them, and feel them, what is inside of them, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually is a complete mystery.

This week, meditate on what you believe in; these narratives that have come to define your life. Are they limiting your capacity for a much greater and happierlife? Are they expanding your consciousness? Are they hiding you from a world where love and compassion prevail? Are you ready to bear straight ahead, seeking what lies in and beyond the fog?

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%. 
SHEEP. Taken in Santa Cruz, Patagonia, Argentina.
25″ x 40″ Digital Photography
Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks,
Printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g
$750 (minus 15%) + shipping

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NEW BOOK!

FEEL THE WILD “What makes Daniel’s work special and important is that it stirs us deep inside, where his story meets ours, his dream overlaps with yours and his curiosity become contagious” from Wallace J. Nichols, author of Bluemind

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Nature Meditation – GETTING LOST

“ “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” Henry David Thoreau

The irony of the situation is hard to miss. This week’s meditation theme is about “getting lost” and here I am, writing these lines, lost in a world of in-between, in an unwanted place, away from my tribe, struggling to find my bearing. Yesterday, my life was structured and somewhat stable; I had plans, a schedule, confirmed engagements, and I had just celebrated the passing of a major personal milestone. And today, well, all the cards have been thrown up in the air and where they will fall is still unknown. Hours ago, my compass was bearing straight ahead, steady and holding course; now I look at the needle and it is pointing to all directions, going everywhere but the place where I want to go, leaving me in a twilight zone of torment.

How many times have, each one of us, felt this way? How many times have we faced uncertainty, the feeling of powerlessness creeping from the inner depth of our insecurity? In all my years of solo wilderness expeditions and in my personal life, I have always been able to look back at those moments of feeling lost, and, with the acquired wisdom, to see how positively transforming those truly unfortunate events turned out to be; how much I grew personally and spiritually. Despite knowing in my core that it was going to be ok, that I would make it through, I had been there before and that I had all the tools and capacity to find my way again, this chaotic present is still a burden of monumental proportion. And that is ok.

Erika Harris has a wonderful quote: “It is good to feel lost… because it proves you have a navigational sense of where “Home” is. You know that a place that feels like being found exists. And maybe your current location isn’t that place but, Hallelujah, that unsettled, uneasy feeling of lost-ness just brought you closer to it.

Besides reaffirming our sense of belonging, these forced detours are always filled with treasures, if only we let ourselves be open to being able to see them. I have lost count of the times when I have found the most beautiful places, met the most amazing people, lived the most incredible moments, and discovered my most cherished possessions, more often after finding myself lost and surrendering to the moment, letting the flow of life carry me, and my intuitions guide me.

There is an undeniable sadness and anxiety when faced with uncertainty. Let’s be honest, who really takes complete pleasure in being at a point in time and space that seems to be disconnected from everything? A location that has no name, no clear direction, no obvious way out? Should I go this way? Or that way? What if the solutions are in the opposite direction? Am I making things worse? Am I walking towards a precipice or closer to home? The answers, as distant as they may seem, reside inside of us, inside our “inner fire”, that place made of energy which is connected to everything and everyone. It is that place that feeds our intuition, that whisper which only wants to protect us. My fears and doubts will often be the loudest and quickest to react, urging me to flee and find shelter. But in those moments where my sense of orientation disappears, the bearing to find my way through the heavy fog, the path that will take me back home, the clarity that will illuminate my world once again and lift away that opaque shroud, all appear when I surrender and open myself first. The key is to accept the predicament and understand that I have no power over the past but I do hold the keys to the future.

Meditate on the times in your life where you’ve lost yourself not to the events, but to your fears and doubts. In the future how can you make sure not to give in to these negative feelings? We all get lost from time to time, it is an inevitable part of life. But whether these moments make us grow spiritually, happier, wiser, and richer, is within our control.

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%. 
Kayak Triptych. Taken in Baja California and Alaska. Signed and Dedicated, Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g

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Weekend Nature Retreats, Day Hikes and BeSpoke Adventures – a mix of nature & philosophy with a purpose of gaining a better perspective on life & taking control of your personal narrative.

Reserve now for Cavallo Point on February 26/27/28 – 12 places left!

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NEW BOOK!

FEEL THE WILD “What makes Daniel’s work special and important is that it stirs us deep inside, where his story meets ours, his dream overlaps with yours and his curiosity become contagious” from Wallace J. Nichols, author of Bluemind

On Sale for $40, plus shipping

ORDER NOW

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Nature Meditation – ALONE ISN’T LONELY

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No man (or woman) should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself (herself) depending solely on himself (herself) and thereby learning his (her) true and hidden strength.” Jack Kerouac

My childhood memories are vague and distant, like glimpses of a movie played behind a smoke screen. When I look at photos from my past, my brain is able to recognize what they represent; it recognizes the places where they were taken, it recognizes the people it sees. But beyond that, the images seem strange, disconnected, and impersonal. I can’t seem to be able to attach a feeling that ties me to that moment; I look at my younger self captured in a picture, a place in time that I can confirm and remember, but I have no emotional memory of being there. I want to remember the specifics, but for some reason, my past has become a timeline divided in themes, periods defined by an emotion that summarizes those particular years, thousands of memories put together, merged into a single block and stamped with a single word, an emotion that overrides all the others. Of those themes, the emotion that stands out is loneliness.

My life was for a very long time filled with a feeling of loneliness. For decades, I didn’t know where I belonged. My parents moved a lot. By the age of 12, I had already moved 10 times. With every move, I had to leave behind whatever world I had been able to create with the limited time that I had been given, and focus on recreating a sense of belonging to wherever I was then finding myself. Houses changed; friendships vanished as quickly as they were born; cities became backdrops for momentary plays. While the world around me was in constant motion, sweeping away any hint of foundation that I was trying to build for myself, one place remained constant and offered me salvation, peace, and a purpose ⎯ nature. Everywhere we moved, there was always a local park, a forest where I could roam and get lost; trees I could climb, creeks I could explore, dirt I could dig in. That loneliness that dominated my world was nowhere to be found the minute I stepped into the wilderness. There ⎯ in this world of silence ⎯ I found solace. I was alone but I was connected; I felt part of something that was bigger than me. Within that silence, I found comfort; within those trees, I found a tribe that listened; within nature I found the family I was looking for, the structure of values and insights that would teach me about life, about what it is to be human, and what is like to live on this planet.  That deep connectedness has never left me since, I carry it with me everywhere I go, where ever I find myself, whether I am alone or not.

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

The irony of our time is that despite being constantly connected and surrounded, actually never really being “alone”, there is a deep loneliness that permeates our lives. It is a loneliness that is overshadowed by pride; a pride that isolates us and infringes on our need to deeply connect; a pride that is based on the fear of facing our inner silence and solitude; a vulnerable and intimate place where the beauty of being human is revealed.

Face the silenceembrace your solitudecelebrate your vulnerabilityconnect with the beyond (whatever that may be for you), and find the lightwithin and around you.

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%
Patagonian Winter. Taken in the Province of Santa Cruz in Argentina. Signed and Dedicated, Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g

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NATURE RETREAT

Weekend Nature Retreats, Day Hikes and BeSpoke Adventures – a mix of nature & philosophy with a purpose of gaining a better perspective on life & taking control of your personal narrative.

Reserve now for Cavallo Point on February 26/27/28 – 12 places left!

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NEW BOOK!

FEEL THE WILD “What makes Daniel’s work special and important is that it stirs us deep inside, where his story meets ours, his dream overlaps with yours and his curiosity become contagious” from Wallace J. Nichols, author of Bluemind

On Sale for $40, plus shipping

ORDER NOW

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HALLOWEEN SALE!

Several prints are currently exhibited at CIBO, in Sausalito, California. For anyone who walks into CIBOand emails the password “Pumpkin”, standing in front of their print of choice, will receive a 20% discount.

And don’t forget to taste their coffee!!! It is a MUST!

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Nature Meditation – INNER FIRE

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“When you know who you are; when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will; no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose. You know that you are alive.” Chief Seattle, Duwamish (1780-1866)

I am sitting in front of a campfire, staring. My eyes are locked onto an invisible place just above the burning logs. My mind is lost with wonder, mesmerized by this magical display of nature. Of all the Fundamental Elements (Air, Earth, Fire, Water), Fire is the only one that has the power to molecularly transform the nature of things. It is the only one that doesn’t exist unless it is created. It is the only one that consumes so that it can live. Its benefits emerge only when it is controlled and contained. Left to its own devices, it grows, spreads, ravages, and consumes. It is a power that can bring lost ones back to safety yet it can turn to ashes the biggest of castles. Since the beginning of time, its flames have inspired and terrified, cleansed and scorched, built and destroyed. It is easy to understand why in Hindu mythology, the the God of Fire, Agni, represents the essential energy of life in the universe.

And this essential energy is within ourselves too – our Inner Fire.

The People of Tibet believe that Tummo (translation for inner fire) truly exist and can be controlled through a breathing meditation – a practice that increases and manipulates the body’s temperature. That fire is said to live within, below the navel chakra. A fact that even our science-based culture recognizes daily without always realizing it. The expression “Fire in the Belly” is more than having ambition, stamina, vigor, and passion, it is that primal energy that fuels everything. By connecting with our Tummo, by meditating on our Inner Fire, one can activate its power of transformation. As our flame grows and expands, it rises and spreads, reaching throughout all other chakras, cleansing our body from all energy blockages, warming our hearts and bringing along love and compassion. But as with the element of Fire, our Inner Fire demands balance and control. Too much Fire within and we are over reaching, if it is always on, our body dries up and our mind burns away. If we don’t have enough then we lack the desire to move, live and stand up for our beliefs.

How is your Inner Fire? Is it flowing? Raging? Dormant? Is it leading you to safety or burning your castle? Is it inspiring you or terrifying you? Is it cleansing you or scorching you? Building or destroying? Take a moment to STOP BREATHE RELAX and LISTEN to your Tummo, what is it telling you?


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%
A beautiful triptych from the new FLAMES series, created while at SUMMIT Powder Mountain. Signed and Dedicated, Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g

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NATURE RETREAT

Weekend Nature Retreats, Day Hikes and BeSpoke Adventures – a mix of nature & philosophy with a purpose of gaining a better perspective on life & taking control of your personal narrative.

Reserve now for Cavallo Point on February 19/20/21 – 12 places left!

RESERVE NOW

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NEW BOOK!

FEEL THE WILD “What makes Daniel’s work special and important is that it stirs us deep inside, where his story meets ours, his dream overlaps with yours and his curiosity become contagious” from Wallace J. Nichols, author of Bluemind

On Sale for $40, plus shipping

ORDER NOW

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HALLOWEEN SALE!

Several prints are currently exhibited at CIBO, in Sausalito, California. For anyone who walks into CIBOand emails the password “Pumpkin”, standing in front of their print of choice, will receive a 20% discount.

And don’t forget to taste there coffee!!! It is a MUST!

BUY NOW

Cibo

Magical Sea Cave

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Part of upcoming story written for SIDETRACKED magazine

After five hours of smooth paddling, a couple of dolphin pod encounters, and several mobula ray breaches, I rounded the north end of the island and started looking for my next campsite. San Marcos, an island in the Gulf of California, off the Baja Peninsula’s Santa Rosalia, has plenty of beaches where I could land. Inexplicably, as I was paddling toward a desirable looking spot, my attention was pulled to the end of a giant rock formation where a tiny beach on the side of it was partially exposed. At first glance, there was no justification for me to explore this beach. It didn’t even look big enough for a camping site, but a little voice inside my head kept whispering that it might be something special. As a longtime solo traveler, I have learned the value of gut feelings, about the importance of listening to the intangible, about believing and accepting the signs when the world speaks to us. So without much mental resistance, I shifted my weight and edged the kayak on its right side, stroked hard with my paddle, and turned left. Little did I know what treasures lay just ahead.

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Gliding around the edge of the rock formation, my first glimpse of the hidden beauty behind it came at the very last moment when the tip of my kayak reached the beach. The back side of the rock revealed itself to be a remnant of a sea cave, a sort of half-shell amphitheater that faced the beach and sheltered a tiny lagoon filled with water that flowed in from the sea through a small porthole in the back of the cave. At the center of the lagoon, where the half-cave’s roof gave way to the sky, was a boulder surrounded by water at high tide. The boulder acted as a focal point, collecting the energy that seemed to bounce from every angle of the cave’s walls. The force was seriously strong in this place. No wonder it had called me, pulling me away from my trajectory. This cave was like a magical giant planet with its own gravity. Perhaps a portal to another world? My stay there would lead me to believe that yes, indeed it was.

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After setting up camp on the beach, I put on my fins, snorkel, and wetsuit, grabbed my spear gun, and went fishing. Stepping into the water, I walked knee-deep into the lagoon toward the porthole. I took a deep breath, dove, swam out into the sea, and entered a world full of fish and wonders. An hour later I was back with my meal, a large smile on my face and a blue mind of enchantment that comes from being in the water. I was at peace after spending so many minutes holding my breath, 20 feet deep, mesmerised by the life swimming around me.

At day’s end, the wind was nowhere to be seen or heard. Everything was quiet; even the birds that had so far chirped without a break. The gulls stood in silence, each balancing on one leg on the rock and on the beach. A deep stillness permeated the air, as if time had slowed down. It was similar to the excited feeling I get before something grand happens, in that precise moment before the show starts, before the curtain rises, when everybody stops and directs their attention to the stage, waiting for the magic to appear. I felt my attention drawn to the middle of the cave, onto that boulder surrounded by water. I walked to a rock near the beach, faced the cave, and sat. Taking a deep breath, I felt my energy spreading outward. Interestingly, it didn’t feel like my energy was escaping, but instead stretching far and connecting with every other molecule that surrounded me—the rocks, the animals, the water, the wind. Closing my eyes I could see the giant web that was being formed. It reminded me of the neural patterns in the brain, the filaments that stretch in all directions, connecting, transmitting, unifying, constantly evolving.

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As if on cue, two things happened at once. The small cave entrance that squeezed between the water and the rock lit up with a burning glow like a mini-sun, radiating with such intensity that for a second I had to cover my eyes. The sunbeam was in perfect alignment with the arched porthole, and the water acted as a giant reflector, focusing the light into one small opening and blasting it to the other side. It was as if I was
witnessing the birth of a star.

The tide had reached a height where even a little ripple, the tiniest of movements on the surface of the water, pushed enough air through the cave’s hollows to create a gurgling sound that felt like an ancient language. The spirit of the cave was talking. This elder of ancient times had awakened and was sharing its wisdom. It was a privilege being here amongst the birds, the rocks, the water, and the wind. But unlike the powerful things that surrounded me, I was only a guest, a passerby, someone whose species has disconnected from the magical thousands of years ago and has since stopped seeing what is now un-seeable.

At this moment, in this place, I was the one who felt primitive, simple, lacking depth and unable to understand the grandeur and connectivity of the universe, of life. Staring at the water, listening to the cave, feeling the silence around and in me, I realised that it was our species that needed saving, not the other way around. My eyes were not seeing a world where humans were the chosen ones and stewards of this planet, but rather that we were the ones who needed to be brought back home, from the darkness, returned to a world of love, compassion, and humility.

The serenity of this place convinced me to extend my stay—certainly not one of my hardest decisions. For another day I fished, read, relaxed, listened, and soaked in the energy that was offered to me. The following morning, after packing and tucking myself into the kayak, I took one last moment to reflect. Dipping my hands in the water and closing my eyes, I thanked the cave and promised to return—but I would bring others so they too can know its marvels.

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“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” Ray Bradbury

My friend is standing in front of me, her head stuck looking down. Her thumb has been scrolling endlessly over the glass of her smartphone for several minutes. Sometimes, she stops the motion and looks carefully at the thumbnails, then starts scrolling again. “It is somewhere, I know it is. Wait! Here it is! No! It is not this one” She says. Somewhere buried amongst thousands of other photos, there is one she has been wanting to share with me, a photo that captured a special moment, something beautiful. Feeling the weight of the endless search, she sighs and concludes, defeated: “Anyway, I swear it was so beautiful… I just wished I would have been able to show you.”

Not a week goes by without someone wanting to share with me the photos they love and most of the time, the moment is ruined by their failure in finding the pictures that mirror their memory or the intimidating challenge of suddenly having to choose the right one amongst a series of simile photos, just slightly different from one another, while I wait in front of them, my eyes wandering, looking for distraction as the minute pass.

The world of photography has changed a lot since the days of film. Back then, the craft was expensive and time consuming. Every time you pressed the shutter, you were mindful of the outcome, both financially and in the amount of work needed. Space was also very limited. Film rolls contained at the maximum 36 photos and the amount of rolls one would or could carry was depending on the level of trouble you would want to go through. Once the pictures developed, they would be manually put, one by one, into an album. By doing this, by actively participating into the creative process and development of the narrative, people took ownership of the stories they wanted to tell. There was always a certain pride in opening an album and showing it to a friend or a family member. And for those friends or family, the experience was memorable and personal. These stories were crafted with time and commitment. Each photo placed with care and thoughtfully. The order far from being random, the creator of the album had set each photo with the intent of telling a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Today, the picture is quite different!

Technology has conquered the limitations we once faced. But with this new reality came a world a new problems.

Our capacity to create without any limit has rendered us prisoners of our own creations. We don’t own our photos anymore, they own us.

When I am asked what is the best advice for doing photography, my answer is always the same – learn to DELETE FIRST. As much as we are privileged, living with tools that give us so much freedom to experiment, that freedom quickly disappears if we are not able to delete the junk – and yes junk it is!

Learning to delete is to my opinion the greatest challenge and most necessary skill today’s photographers must develop. And since we are all photographers now (amateurs and professionals) that means that everyone should learn to delete.

Deleting photos is more than making room in your library, it is an empowering skill and a crucial tool in developing your craft. By deleting the ones you don’t like, you start to discover what you like. You start taking ownership of your photos. And with ownership comes pride. And with pride comes value. Instead of being passive, you become an active participant in the art of telling stories. Instead of letting the photos dictate your narrative, you create the narrative.

Recently, well-known photographer and an early Instagram fan, Richard Koci Hernandez, announced he was deleting all of his pictures from the photo-sharing service. Talking to Chris O’Brien at Venture Beat, Richard stated that:

“I’ve always felt that a photograph deserves a life span. Nothing should live forever… my ‘photo stream’ has recently seemed less like a stream and more like a dammed-up river. I know this all sounds very heady, but I’ve been thinking that the Internet doesn’t respect time in the way that I think it should. Especially in relation to photographs. I’ve always thought that the institution of an art gallery was a satisfying way to experience work. And recently my Instagram account has felt like an exhibition of work that is always on display, the doors are always open 24/7, and that dismayed me a bit.

Think about it. If you love someone’s work and a local gallery puts on an exhibition, there is an excitement — you attend the exhibition and potentially you take away a print, a book, or a poster, and there is a sense of having had an experience and finality once the show ends and moves on. I desperately wanted my work on Instagram to have that same quality. Simply put, I’m saying that the current exhibition is over and it’s time to hang a new show. On another note, because of the seemingly permanent nature of an online photo gallery, I didn’t want everything I’ve ever done always on display. Some of the work that I’ve posted isn’t as mature as I’d like it to be, and it deserves to be forgotten.

Deleting these images gives me a sense of freedom, of potentially shedding an old skin and developing a new one. It’s very liberating. I’ve taken this idea to the extreme and many of my close friends and in particular my wife have had to prevent me from permanently deleting the original files themselves.

If I had my way, I’d pore through the work, find my favorites, print them out, and put them in a box, then I’d delete all the originals. In this flood of digital photographs, in an era where nothing seems special or sacred, I love the idea of scarcity. In a funny way, it’s just another version of Snapchat.”

Richard brings forth two very important points: the space to create and the value of a photo.

So the question begs to be asked. What is the value of our photos today? How much do we truly value the moments we try so hard to capture and record? Do we really honor those precious episodes by dumping our photos into a virtual cumulative album that has no narrative, no order, other than the dates they were taken. What is to say about our relationship with our photos when we fail at finding them or lose the expected joy by facing too many of the same?

Barry Schwartz in his TED talk “On the paradox of choice” presented to the audience his belief that today’s abundance infringes us rather than liberating us.

“It produces paralysis rather than liberation… With so many options to choose from people find it very difficult to choose at all… Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice we end up less satisfy with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from…”

And I believe that the great irony of our time is that our photos have become ephemeral but not because there existence is limited, but because their value disappears, despite of their existence. By taking so many photos and failing to keep only the good ones, we have lost the ownership of the moments we are precisely trying to own.

Learning to delete our photos therefore is necessary to give our power of creativity room to grow and to return the value and respect to our captured moments.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” 

― Thich Nhat Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

 

Yerba Mate – more than drink

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I am standing in the kitchen looking out through the window. I am doing a ritual that has now become a daily morning routine. While the water is warming up on the stove, I pour loose yerba into a gourd, cover the top with my hand, turn the gourd upside down and gently shake it several times. The goal is to bring to the surface the “Polvo” (powder). Then I pour a little bit of cold water on one side, not too much, just enough to soak the leaves and keep the other side dry. As an old man said to me once: “You are not simply pouring water, you are feeding the yerba so that it can breathe”. Just before the kettle sings and the water boils, I turn off the stove. I take the kettle and delicately tilt it until water starts pouring out and into the gourd. It is really important not to use boiling water when preparing Mate. Too hot and the leaves will burn. Too cold and they will shrivel. You want the water to be just hot enough so that it incites the precious leaves to release their elixir.

According to the Guarani legend, the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to the Earth one day to visit it but they instead found a Yaguareté (a jaguar) that was going to attack them. An old man saved them, and, in compensation, the Goddesses gave the old man a new kind of plant, from which he could prepare a “drink of friendship”.

Mate is more than a drink. Comparing it to tea or coffee would be a huge understatement, it would be an insult. It is more like wine. It is a lifestyle statement. One that says time and relationships matter. One that says speed and singularity are not a priority. It is a ritual that invites for sharing and trust. A reminder from the Native Cultures passing the pipe around, as a sign of welcome and humility. It is a ceremony that invites strangers and solidifies friendships. When offered to you, it is the deepest and most sincere gesture of hospitality.

Taking a deep breath, I let the woody toasty aroma fill my nose. A strong yet delicate fragrance with a hint of fresh grass, tinged with roasted nuts. My memory neurons automatically recognize the scent and send me mind back in time, to that place in the jungle, where the soil is red and the trees are tall and green. Where the monkeys howl and the jaguar roams stealthily – the birth place of Yerba Mate, the land of the Guarani People. Sipping on the bombilla, I bring the water to my lips. My tasting buds delightfully connect with the ancestral tea. Its potent tonic spreads through my bloodstream and invades my body, charging my senses.

Drinking Mate connects me to an old ritual that was born from a culture that believes nature is something bigger than them. Today, living in a world of conveniency and technology, I need those moments to remind myself of the things that truly mater: friendship, hospitality, taking the time to be in the moment and cherishing the simplest things.

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SPRING NEWSLETTER

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“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir

Spring – the time of the year that is synonymous with new beginnings. Trees that have been dormant for months start coming to life. Minute by minute, the sun stays longer every day, finally pushing our dark evenings away. The air is getting warmer. This warmth is fueling this increase of energy we feel everywhere. The other animals sense it too. Our bodies are becoming more active, itching to return to the open landscapes. It is the call of the Wild, reaching out into the depth of our unconscious and connecting with the ancestral bond we share with the planet and with the natural world.


FUJIFILM

I am extremely proud and honored to announce that I am now a FUJIFILM X-Photographer. It is not everyday that one of the most recognized photography brands in the world decides to include you in its team of “Expert Photographers“.

I have been using the X-T1 and you can read below my testimonial.

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“The XT-1 is my new weapon of choice. It is everything I need and much more. Having used DSLR for many years, I had always felt that going more compact and opting for the benefits of mirrorless cameras meant loosing in quality and capacities. But those days are now gone and over with. The XT-1 is the future, my future! It gives me the power of technology in a camera I have no worries taking it along with me either while kayaking the burning hot Sea of Cortez, backpacking the wet and windy spring days of British Columbia, or biking the cold winter wilderness of Alaska.

Also really important, I never feel physically disconnected from the process of photography – which is something that is happening today because of technology – you gain new advantages while loosing connection. The XT-1 is the opposite. Its simplicity and its tactile controls connect me with my art, with the photos. I feel in control, not controlled and dependent of a machine.

The XT-1 is a no fuss, extremely powerful, weatherproof and compact wonder! And it is the only one I carry with me.”


WILD FOUNDATION

The WILD Foundation has been at the heart of the global wilderness community for over 40 years. It is the founder and steward of the World Wilderness Congress, the world’s longest–running, public, international conservation program.

Starting in June, I will be joining their Marine Wilderness 10+10 Project as LEAD WILD EXPLORER. Together, and with other organizations, we will work at preserving the wilderness values of a targeted selection of regions around the world.

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“Daniel brings to us the wild tales of the ocean we need to help a variety of stakeholders envision the values they commonly hold – ‘marine wilderness,’ which benefits communities, fishers, recreationists, tourists and all of us.” Julie Anton Randall, Vice President for Programs, The WILD Foundation


W.I.L.D. SCHOLARSHIP

W.I.L.D. (Wilderness Immersion for Leadership & Discovery) believes that immersion in nature is an important part of our development, especially during our early, formative years when it is so critical to discover who we are, develop strong self-esteem, begin to adopt leadership skills, challenge our physical well-being and acquire the capacity to live a balance life in a world dominated by technology. Knowing the importance of today’s youth in shaping the future, W.I.L.D.‘s initial effort is targeted on giving youth, especially under-privileged teens, the opportunity to experience first-hand the positive impact nature can have on their lives through wilderness immersion camps.

Originally, the funds raised during the first  W.I.L.D. campaign were just enough to support only one teenager but thanks to N.O.L.S., their scholarship program decided to get involved and matched the donations. Making it possible to fund 2 teenagers instead of one.

So it is with great pleasure that I am announcing the first 2 W.I.L.D. Scholarship recipients, Gavrielle Thompson and Kedyn Sierra.

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Both Gavrielle and Kedyn have been previously involved with ETC (Environmental Traveling Companions). Their applications clearly illustrated their passion for the outdoors and their deep desire to experience and learn from being immersed in nature. As part of their adventure, they will be documenting their journey and sharing their discoveries.  Look forward to their report later this fall.

For their month-long sea kayaking wilderness camp in Alaska this summer, Kedyn & Gavrielle will be geared up by Sierra Designs,  Kokatat,  Mountain KhakisMiirIcebreaker,  Aquapac,  Deuters,  Confluence Outdoors,  Rocky S2V,  Guayaki,  Optimus Stove and Smith Optics.

A huge thank you to everyone for your support!


BAJA CALIFORNIA

I recently spent 2 months in Baja California where I paddled around Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Tortuga. While Santo is a famous island close to LaPaz featuring incredible landscapes, Tortuga is a remote volcanic crater 20 miles offshore only visited by fishermen. You can see the recap of the two expeditions on PINTEREST and the MINUTE OF NATURE videos filmed on location here.

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Whale shark outside LaPaz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

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The Tortuga Rattlesnake, a species endemic to the island.

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Campsite on Isla Espiritu Santo


STORIES

From the blog – 3 new stories were added: an encounter with a black bear, the insights received during a paddle in Baja, and the challenges explorers face when they come back home after traveling for so long.

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THE POWER OF THE VOICE

The black bear stood tall, mounted on his hind legs, only 15 feet away from me. Its nose was covered with long grey hair, some remnants of a deer carcass it was just feeding on. Its front paw claws hung in front of him while the ones on its back paws were firmly dug into the ground… READ MORE

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SOLITUDE + SILENCE = CLARITY & PERSPECTIVE

The beach was made of this creamy white sand – powdery granules made of crushed shells and limestone eroded over millions of years, moved with the tides, currents and wind, slowly and gradually pushed back against the shore, grain after grain, and now forming the soft cushion I was resting on… READ MORE

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A CHALLENGING RETURN

The road is my home. It is where I feel alive. It is where I breathe and nourish myself. The road feeds my craving for discovery. It calms my restless mind hungry for new experiences. My dreams are blank canvases that paint themselves as I move forward towards new destinations. I am like a mountain river that needs the movement to fill itself with air… READ MORE


PUBLIC SPEAKING

The end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 was marked by several public speaking engagements with presentations at REI stores throughout the Bay Area, at the San Francisco State University and at the well known Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

Dates and locations for future events will be announced this summer as the schedule for Fall 2015 / Winter 2016 is being confirmed.

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FEEL THE WILD – BOOK

My new book – FEEL THE WILD, is in the works and the first Draft Edition will be ready for the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show this August. With close to 200 pages, the book is a collection of stunning photography, inspirational stories and new material.

If you want to be notified when the book becomes available please click this link

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ONLINE STORE

We are getting closer to the online store being operational. Products from Icebreaker, Miir and Mountain Khakis will feature the FEEL THE WILD & THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT branding. Products so far being offered will include: Coffee Mugs, Merino t-shirts, Neoskin journals, Growlers, Tote Bags, Insulated bottles, Water bottles, Greeting cards and prints.

If you want to be notified when the merchandise becomes available please click this link

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MEDIA

See below a recap of some of the major media coverage recently published. I would like to thank the publications and magazines for believing that my work is newsworthy. Click on the image to access the article.

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WHAT’S NEXT

Plans are always the most complicated and challenging reality I have to face, as they constantly change. Right now, I am heading to British Columbia where I plan on biking and padding the Canadian Wilderness for the next 2 months. With nothing set in stone, the best way to keep in touch with my adventures is through my social media – which you can access by clicking the icons below. If you hear that I am passing through your neighborhood, don’t hesitate and reach out, it is always a pleasure to connect and share stories.

WebsiteWebsiteFacebookFacebookTwitterTwitterInstagramInstagramPinterestPinterestLinkedInLinkedInGoogle PlusGoogle Plus

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May the Wilderness Be with You.

STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

S2 = C + P

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The beach was made of this creamy white sand – powdery granules made of crushed shells and limestone eroded over millions of years, moved with the tides, currents and wind, slowly and gradually pushed back against the shore, grain after grain, and now forming the soft cushion I was resting on. This quiet little place located on the westerly side of Isla Espiritu Santo, just outside La Paz in Baja California Sur, was tuck between two long cliffs made of a multitude of volcanic ash layers, a product of the Miocene Era. Just like a pair of blinkers on a horse, these mineral fingers that advanced way far into the water, protecting this tiny oasis, were also preventing me from seeing the vastness of the Gulf of California, restricting my sight of this interior sea to just a sliver of emerald water. But that didn’t really matter since darkness had fallen and now my gaze was looking up, laying on my back, my hands behind my head, my eyes lost in an ocean of stars.

I was contemplating a world that was beyond my comprehension, a reality that was bigger than me, a universe that hold more secrets and treasures than I could fathom, and this reigning serenity was the perfect way to end the day.

The morning started with a gentle breeze, as the sun peeking above the horizon began its ascent into a cloudless blue sky, flooding the air with warmth, fueling invisible particles of oxygen and nitrogen with heat, causing them to move and swirl faster and generating the wind that would later slow my progress. This transition from darkness to light, this dance between the Sun and the Earth was affecting everything – the air, the ocean, the animals, the plants, and myself.

This planetary movement was intricately linked to the complex biological process that was happening in my body as my eyes were opening after longs hours of sleep, a ritual that has been fine tuning itself for thousands and thousands of year. The level of melatonin in my blood was decreasing as the presence of cortisol was going up. It is believed that this event is linked to the hippocampus in preparation of facing stress during the day. My lungs were expanding with more vigor, flooding my blood cells with oxygen, waking my muscles back from their comatose state. The same muscles that would later push against the wind.

Every part of my body was awakening. Slowly, I was becoming more in tuned with my surroundings. My existence on this planet was connected to the Universe. These carbon atoms of which my body is made of were affected by a star millions of miles away, by the gravity of the moon above me and by the unknown forces that controlled the solar system. How is it possible that we believe that Life revolves around us?

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With every paddle stroke, my thoughts, my worries, my wishes, my struggles, my joys and my pains are stripped away, leaving me naked but with clarity and perspective.

After cooking breakfast, sipping yerba mate and packing the gear into the kayak, I walked into the sea pulling the kayak off the beach. With a quick jump, I maneuvered myself into the cockpit and started to paddle. Looking back one last time, I offered my goodbyes to an imaginary host – a customary practice I do every time I arrive and depart a location, paying my respects to a place which doesn’t belong to me, honoring the hospitality I humbly received. In the same manner that I always ask the Ocean permission every time I travel its realm. It is not a religious belief but rather the understanding that my future is in the hands of nature.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

The clear blue sky had become swamped with hundreds of white smudges, much like the freckles on a summer skin. The peaceful clarity of the morning had left and in its place was some kind of an orchestrated chaos. The pelicans were flying everywhere and diving on bait fish while being harassed by sea gulls that trailed them like leeches. Rays of all different sizes jumped out of the water mysteriously, giving me the impression that the sea had turned into a giant Whack-A-Mole game. Frigate birds high in the sky keeping an eye on passing-by blue-foot boobies, waiting to steal their catch. Turkey vultures gliding effortlessly counting the days for the nearby carcass of a sea lion to reach its perfect decomposition state. Bouncing waves from the cliff with the current running around the island, plus the waves coming from the open sea and the head winds were creating this tempestuous surface that made me feel like I was sitting on a mechanic bull. And that was only what I could see. I am sure that if I poked my head underwater, I would discover another world of madness. All this energy, these whirlwinds of life, this pool of bouncing atoms, was creating heat, moving up and feeding what were now giants puffy monoliths.

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength” Jack Kerouac

The tent was up and the dinner was cooked. Pelicans were still feeding, picking the last of the survivors of what had been earlier in the day a bait ball of probably in the tens of thousands. But the way they flew and dove looked heavy and lazy. Even the sea gulls had giving up pestering them, instead floating on the water or resting on a rock nearby screaming like young spoiled brats – Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! I was reminded for a second of what we must look like after a Thanksgiving dinner, stuffed to the ears and still reaching out across the table grabbing one last piece and managing swallowing it down only with a deep breath. Who said we were different from the animals?

After its daily journey across sky, the sun was about to disappear behind the horizon, painting the sky with deep hues of orange, pink, red, and purple. Had there been no clouds but a perfect empty sky, the sunset would have still been enjoyable but would have lacked panache. It would have been simple, humdrum, kind of stale and monotonous. There wouldn’t have been any deep hues and many colors. There would have been only a general fading of the light accompanied by a possible green flash and some orange leftover at the end. It was all this energy, this chaos, this frenzy of everything this world is made of, that this sunset was feeding on and giving it back to everyone to see in the most spectacular show ever produced. Beauty was literally rising from the depths of madness.

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The wind was barely rolling over the water and the round fluffy silhouettes up above were moving away. The night was taking hold and bringing along with it its posses. Venus, Jupiter, Vega, Arcturus, and Regulas were the first to show up but give another hour and the room would be filled with billions of others. As much as this place was buzzing with noise just hours earlier, now silence was of order.

It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky… a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.” Victor Hugo

Laying down on that beach, I let the world sink in. I let my thoughts disappear. I let the silence take over. I am staring at this night sky filled with stars and know that, like earlier, looking out and seeing only a sliver of the sea, I am seeing only a tiny fragment of what we call the Universe. There is so much out there. How can we think so much of ourselves in front of such inexplicable beauty and mystery? Why are we so insecure about our evolutionary identity? Why can’t we find comfort in the knowledge and humility that there are things that are bigger than us? Having no meaning in the big scheme of the universe doesn’t mean we have no meaning in life. It just means that ultimately, we matter for a moment, for the ones around us. And that is important. But in the end, the atoms that we borrowed are returned. And the only things left are memories and legacies. Even those, unfortunately for the ones who have past but to the benefit of the ones who will come, will fade away with time.

The cacophony of life is necessary. The buzzing and frenzy of our culture has a creative purpose and we shouldn’t underestimate its value but more importantly, clarity and perspective happen only when silence and solitude are present. In our culture of multi-tasking, every hour filled with endless distractions and finding ourselves relentlessly connected to our technology devices, these alone times are becoming rarer and rarer leaving us with an incapacity to delve and think deeper, stuck in the shallowness found within 140 characters. More than ever, we must find the time to STOP. BREATHE. RELAX & LISTEN.

S2 = C + P (Solitude & Silence = Clarity + Perspective)

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

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The Power of the Voice

The black bear stood tall, mounted on his hind legs, only 15 feet away from me. Its nose was covered with long grey hair, some remnants of a deer carcass it was just feeding on. Its front paw claws hung in front of him while the ones on its back paws were firmly dug into the ground. Its nostrils grew larger, then smaller, with a rhythm, inhaling the air with vigor, deciphering what the emptiness around us hold secret. Its fur was wet and looked heavy and scrubby – the weight of winter hibernation still buried deep into him. Our eyes, these marvels of evolution, so similar to each other despite belonging to such distinct species, were locked and engaged into a staring contest. As if on cue, the birds stopped chirping and the forest became silent. Just a slight cold breeze bristling the needles of Pacific Northwest conifers. In some distant corner of my memory, these iconic musical notes for a duel in a Western movie were coming out of the closet.

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I had left Telegraph Cove earlier that day. The tiny historical village was located at the north end of Vancouver Island, about 6 hours from Victoria. I had paddled south for about 5 miles and set up camp. The plan was to spend the night there then cross Johnstone Strait the next day, visit the famous Orca Lab and circumnavigate Hanson Island. With the tent up and food hoisted up in a tree, I grabbed the camera and went on a hike to investigate the area.

No more than 20 minutes had passed when I heard a sort of crunching noise, somewhere not far, over to my right, through the thick green canopy. The sound puzzled me. My hearing over the years has become attuned to strange things, the wilderness is always full of weird melodies, but this in particular was forcing me to search my repertoire of possibilities.

With binoculars in hand, I crouched and moved forward, slowly and silently, like a lion stalking its prey. My blood started to rush, my pupils dilated and my senses became super sensitive. My ancestral hunting mode had just turned itself on. I was aware of everything – the ground beneath me, the air around me, the trees surrounding me. Every step became a thoughtful process, assessing the sturdiness of leaves and branches, before I delicately lay my foot or hand over. When I photograph an animal, I make a point of not hiding, but this was different. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the curtain and before I announce myself I wanted to know what or who was there.

Inching my way closer to the source, a change in the pattern emerged. What was supposed to be green, now was black. It took only a fraction of a second to realize what it was – a black bear. But what was it doing? It was not really moving. It fact it was in one spot, its head low and slightly moving upward from time to time. Its body was mostly stationary and its focus was concentrated on what seemed to be one single task. But what was it? On the ground around was nothing in particular and yet, through my binoculars, the bear seemed to be tearing something from something else! I still remember the thoughts running through my mind – what is it that this bear is doing? It was certainly not digging. There was really no sign of a carcass, no bones sticking out, there was really nothing that would give me any clue. So I inched my way closer.

At this point, having identified the culprit, the hunter in me subdued itself and the photographer in me rose. So I took a branch with my two hands and broke it. The cracking sound reverberated through the air and the bear abruptly stopped, its ears aiming on me. Its eyes locked on my position and without any hesitation, it interrupted itself and started walking towards me. At that moment, I took my camera out, took a deep breath and connected with the inner power within me, from a species that has evolved and successfully spread its reach to almost every corner of the earth. For thousands of years, my ancestors stood where I stood, when two predatory species face each other and judge what is at stake and the possible outcomes. I was not a threat and it was my responsibility to communicate and transmit my intentions. As the bear maneuvered its way through the trees covered in moss, I let the moment sink and kept contact with the wild animal. The wilderness demands to be respected and honored. I was a visitor and my intrusion was nothing of a farce. I had imposed myself onto the bear, disrespecting its intimacy. Now I had to answer for my actions in a humble and respectful way.

Kneeling on the ground, I announced my stand. I was not to disrespect the bear no more, but I was also not going to give away the control of this situation. When wild animals meet, and right now I was one, it is all about the bluff, who holds the fear and who owns the moment. The bear in theory and physically had pretty much all advantages over me. And yet, I had to show him that I was not afraid and convince him that an attack on its behalf would be a waste of energy and not worth the effort.

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As it walked, I started to talk: “Hello Bear, I am not here to take anything away from you. This is your territory and I apologize for the intrusion. I will respect you as long as you respect me.” My words filled the silence. While they communicated my intentions and presence, the tone and calmness of the delivery reassured me. The voice carries a lot of energy. The sounds that emanates from our mouth, the air that originates from inside our lungs is pure vibration. It is alive. It has a power, and yes it can also announce a lack of it. From the dawn of life, every single species has used its vocal capacities to communicate with the world. And right now, my words were carrying my intentions and making a stand.

The bear stopped. It studied the situation. Its ears, eyes and nose were in overdrive. What was I? Was I a threat? Was I a threat to its territory? To its food? Whatever I was, I was certainly not something it was happy to have around. So it moved forward and closer. Continuing talking to him, my tone and assertiveness changed drastically when he got off the mount of dead tree and found itself no further away than about 25 feet from me. At that moment, my voice got deeper and sturdier. I remembered that scene in the Lord of Rings when Gandalf stood on that ridge, hitting the ground with his staff and loudly spoke:”You Will Not Pass!” I didn’t have a gray beard nor I had a staff, but my command to the bear resonated and echoed across the forest. As my words faded into the distance, the bear stopped, stared at me, turned around and went back to the place it had come from. The dynamic had been established. While I had taken control of the moment, from the bear perspective, it felt that I wasn’t a menace and it resumed at tearing whatever it was tearing before my interruption.

With a mix of curiosity and pride, I decided to stay where I was and kept observing. I was still clueless on what the bear was eating and perhaps deep down, some dominant species behavior was forbidding me to leave. So I sat there, not moving for another 20 minutes, glued to my binoculars.

The bear must have felt the annoying stalking cause it came back. And this time, everything felt different. I could see it in its eyes, they were defiant and had a purpose. Its stride was solid and grounded. It was not charging but it was coming with an intent. As it passed the dead tree, my Gandalf move fell into dead ears and I had to suddenly change my strategy. So I stood up.

As we faced each other, eye to eye, predator to predator, mammal to mammal, survivor to survivor, I reached down into my inner core and connected to a primal place I am not even sure existed in me. I don’t carry any firearms but I do have with me ways to defend myself. Attached to my belt was a long machete with a velcro wrapped around the handle. Pulling a John Wayne, my hands hovered at my waist and I told the bear that if it wanted to come at me, I would not go down without a fight and that if one of us would end up beaten, I swore to it, it sure wasn’t going to be me. With my lips closing on that last word, my fingers slowly pulled the velcro and as the stripping sound of the fabric tearing away filled the air, the bear slowly lowered itself back to its four legs, its ears showing sign of defeat and its eyes avoiding contact with me. It throttled back to its spot, then proceeded with much energy at tearing something. To my surprise, I gazed at the bear running away with half a leg of a deer. It had indeed been a carcass hiding there beneath the tree and all this time the bear was protecting an important source of food. The adrenaline still pumping into my veins, I sat down once more on the ground and took a deep breath. I thanked the forest and my ancestors for their protection and apologized to the bear for the trouble.

Our voice and words have tremendous power. Our culture of technology and science might have reduced them to simple  phonetic products, but the truth is that they carry much more. They are vessels filled with subtleties, nuances, emotions, and intent. If the roar of a lion can rule the Serengeti, if the howl of wolf can conquer the forest and if the unique sound of a baby penguin can be recognized by it mother amongst millions of others, imagine what your voice can do.

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Confucius

W.I.L.D. Scholarship Recipients

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It is with great pleasure that I am announcing the first 2 W.I.L.D. Scholarship recipients, Gavrielle Thompson and Kedyn Sierra.

Going on this trip feels so right. I’m ready to soak up all the new knowledge, life lessons, and memories that are on its way. Not only am I stoked for this trip, but I’m overflowing with gratitude for this once in a lifetime opportunity. “ Gavrielle

“I’m excited to be participating on the 30 day NOLS expedition this summer. I hope this experience will give me the opportunity to get closer wildlife and witness breathtaking views. On a more personal note, I hope this chance to experience a new part of the world will give me a new perspective of people and culture.” Kedyn

N.O.L.S. as awarded them both a scholarship so that the funds raised during the W.I.L.D. campaign will go towards supporting these two incredible young people and attend the month-long sea kayaking wilderness camp in Alaska this summer.

“NOLS is excited to support both Kedyn Sierra and Gavrielle Thompson in attending their NOLS Alaska Sea Kayaking courses this summer of 2015. They have demonstrated exceptional merit, and we believe firmly that they will make excellent students this summer. The goal of the NOLS scholarship is to help support students who we believe will make influential and important leaders in their communities and future careers, and who otherwise would not be able to attend. We strongly believe in Kedyn and Gavrielle’s abilities, and are excited to get to know them better this summer.”

A huge thank you to ETC Trips for helping in the process of selection.

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I am so proud of Kedyn Sierra, who, thanks to your contributions and support, spent a month sea kayaking with NOLS in Alaska last summer. Please WATCH the video and you will see how the power of nature has shaped this incredible young individual.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”” Dr. Seuss

#ThePowerOfNature

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Stories unite us and nature heals us. It is for that reason that I have decided to start a new Facebook Page focused on YOUR storytelling relating to how NATURE has changed your life, and how it has helped you become a better person.

This page is for everyone to post. Feel free to share your experiences, your inspiration, your moments of bliss, your lessons learned, your insightful hikes, your peaceful paddles, your challenging backcountry explorations; share any story that highlights the power of nature to restore our human spirit.

Nature is more than a destination. It is a teacher, a meditation, it is food for the soul and the body, inspiration for the arts, a healer, a mentor, a lover – what is Nature for you? Tell us!

Please use the hashtag #ThePowerOfNature when posting on Twitter, Instagram and Google +. Every month we will award a signed print of my work to one lucky winner, among the ones who posted throughout all social media platforms (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Google +).

A Challenging Return

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The road is my home. It is where I feel alive. It is where I breathe and nourish myself. The road feeds my craving for discovery. It calms my restless mind hungry for new experiences. My dreams are blank canvases that paint themselves as I move forward towards new destinations. I am like a mountain river that needs the movement to fill itself with air. Let me dawdle in a pond and I start to suffocate. It is not that I can’t stay in one place it is just that my energy vibrates to the rhythm of the unexpected and continuous change – endless journeys filled with discoveries.

But two months ago, my 9 months of traveling came to an abrupt end (Alive and Stronger) and since then I have been feeling the weight of inertia. It wasn’t until last week, while trying to find clarity on a beach that I realized just how much of a recluse and grouch I had became, overwhelmed by loss (camera equipment stolen) and sensory overload. It was not only that I felt my energy stuck in a perpetual loop of nothingness, but that my vision and optimism had became clouded with a dark and asphyxiating curtain, like algae chocking a river until nothing lives, transforming a once thriving ecosystem into a dead zone, leaving behind this empty liquid – a ghost.

And these last few months, I have been nothing but an angry ghost, snapping at everything and every one.

So returning from the beach after Thanksgiving, I decided to write about it. I needed a catharsis. I needed to feel the sun again and find peace in the moment. I needed to be grateful for what I had and stop chocking on the things I was missing. I needed to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX and LISTEN. So nature brought me back from the dead.

On that same day I started writing, Becca Skinner posted on Facebook the following:

“There’s a part of me that woke up this morning with a wild heart and restlessness in my bones. And I craved the road and traveling to the point of near tears. So I sat down and wrote about it, drank cups of coffee and told the restlessness to hold on a little bit longer. After spending so much time traveling, it’s often difficult for me to stay in one place. It’s something I’m working on.

Reading her intimate thoughts made me realized that most of us who explore and seem – judging from all our social media feeds, to be living a life of dreams and adventures, all come back and crash. So I reached out to my fellow travelers and explorers and asked them to share with me their thoughts on the topic.

Scott Rinckenberger, is a professional photographer and adventurer specializing in capturing the most wild and pristine places his legs, skis and bikes will carry him. His commercial clients include REI, Patagonia, Red Bull and Intel.

“There is something that we earth-bound explorers share with those who venture into the open reaches of space. We have both experienced altered gravity. Theirs is a physical experience, ours is mental and spiritual. When adventuring I feel more energy, more strength, more speed and more clarity. For a time I attributed this to how my body was reacting to the environment, but I’ve come to realize that it’s my mind reacting to the change in constraints. It’s become clear to me that daily life in the city has a density that can weigh down and suffocate those who have tasted a lighter way of being. Our lungs expand less readily, our eyes see less distance, our minds have less clarity of purpose, and our bodies struggle under the increased burdens. It is so easy to succumb to the pressure, to opt for depression or escapism. Sometimes I let myself settle for this weakness for a short time. But I strive with all of my being to keep my ears open to the voice that reminds me how fortunate I have been, how much love I’ve been blessed with, how minor are my burdens in comparison to so many. And I force myself to go to my office, fire up my computer and update my status to read: “Stoked to be back home with family and friends.” And I try with all I have to really mean it.”

Jeremy Collins, is an illustrator, storyteller, film director, exploratory rock climber and founder of Meridian Line

It has a name. I call it the PTD, or Post Trip Depression. It comes on soft, posing as nostalgia or phantom warmth, then WHAM it hits like a glass wall. I crash through and land back in real life, whatever that is. I check the mail, mow the lawn, or whatever normal people do to play the game. It’s never easy, coming home. The landing is rough, the tarmac crumbled, and I land in the bed with a blazing heap of metal, luggage and memories.”

Sarah Outen, a British adventurer, ocean rower. She is currently part way through her multi-year expedition ‘London2London: Via the World’ – an attempt to row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet, starting and finishing at Tower Bridge.

“I work with a psychotherapist and we identified after my Indian Ocean row in 2009 that transitioning back into ‘normal’ life was really hard – and then through L2L that each transition in and out of different phases is the same. The biggest challenge for me came after my rescue from the North Pacific in 2012. Suddenly there was a huge trauma to deal with as well – I had experienced something very intense, threatening in total isolation and lost my boat in the process. People expected me to be happy and to slot right back in at full speed. In fact, I really, really struggled and it took a while to realize the depth of that struggle and seek proper help. It’s something that I have spoken about with many fellow adventuring pals and I would say that many are not that open about it. And I guess that’s not just in our adventuring expeditioning realm either – there is such a stigma around mental health that struggled often get brushed under the carpet or hidden from sharing. I wrote a blog post about my depression post Pacific 2012 and it was one of the most heavily commented posts of my entire trip. I think that acknowledging there may well be a settling in period after a trip is important. We often prepare for the going away, but thinking about the coming home is useful too and how to structure what happens next. Or even just acknowledging that it is OK, it is normal and we don’t need to charge back on with ‘normal’ stuff right away. Be gentle with yourself – that’s one of the best things I have learned on my trip.”

Krystle Wright is an adventure photographer, Canon Master, Red Bull Illume Top 50 finalist, F-Stop Gear Ambassador, SanDisk AU, and global traveller in search of unique images

“I am a child of the universe, officially a non resident of any country. My camera leads me to the far corners of the earth as I try to fulfill my insatiable desire to document expeditions and disconnect from civilization. I crave the escape. I thrive in the extremes, seeking the freedom and liberation that comes with completely disconnecting from modern luxuries. Yet at the same time I am more connected than ever to just being in the moment. Though inevitably I’ll return periodically and jump into the city scene for brief moments. I can only handle it for a short space of time before I feel the urge to get going again. I haven’t had a home for 3 years now and I have come to just embrace the nomadic lifestyle. It’s not that I hate cities, I just know that its not where I belong. There are many wonderful things that can happen in all types of scenarios including the hustle and bustle of the city, my biggest concern is that people become lost and engulfed and probably forget to disconnect and just simply be outside. Ultimately, it’s all about finding balance.”

Cristian Dimitrus, a cameraman, photographer, biologist and tv personality specialized in wildlife and natural history, his work has been featured on major television networks, including the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, TV Globo, History Channel and Animal Planet.

“Some people say that a true adventure means “get out of your comfort zone”. But when I am back in the city I am definitely out of my comfort zone. So for me being back in town is an adventure in its own way. Not the most enjoyable one but its the place where I have the opportunity to dream out loud, visualize and plan new adventures. This is the way I found to cope with the craziness. My mind takes me wherever I can imagine and sooner than I realize, I am there, back in the wild, where I belong, in Flesh and Blood.”

Catherine Yrisarri, is a documentary storyteller who has produced environmental, political and social stories in over 40 countries. Her clients include National Geographic Channel & Creative, PBS, Oprah, New York Times, The North Face & many others.

“I’ve lived in New York City for the past 6 years which is a strange dichotomy to my life & work on the road where I typically pilgrimage to places of immense natural beauty like the Himalaya, Indian Ocean, Peruvian Andes to capture stories about the culture or environment. In these places, you feel the majesty of the diverse ecosystem that exist in this fragile, beautiful world. It is spectacular. Then I return home to an epicenter of culture and diversity where humanity exists so closely knit here, but there’s a lack of nature. It’s a hard to return to and reconcile at times especially growing up in Colorado so closely tied to rivers and mountains. I find myself pushing toward projects that bring me back to these spaces because they lack in my daily life at the moment. There’s definitely a need in us all for the wildness, untouched beauty. I feel lucky enough that I get paid to escape to these recesses of the world that are slowly closing in by population dynamics and other human impact needs like mining and resource extraction.” 

Skip Armstrong, an award-winning director and cinematographer. His client list includes Boeing, Air New Zealand, National Geographic, Camp4 Collective, BF Goodrich Tires, The North Face, New Belgium Brewery, NRS, Patagonia and many more. His films have been awarded at major film festivals including Banff and Telluride.

“I’ve always been struck by the perfection of undisturbed wilderness.  The plants, animals, rivers – they are all in a state of balance.  I’ve found that after a few days I can’t help but personally take on the same feeling, of being balanced.  When returning to cities and the busyness of day to day life the stark contrast between the two worlds is remarkable. I wish and hope that we all prioritize and embrace the value that only wild and undisturbed lands can offer.”

Winston Ben Wolfrider, a British explorer who just returned home after traveling coast to coast across the USA for World Land Trust. He covered over 25,000 miles on just $6 a day, via a hoard of natural checkpoints.

I call it Re-entry. It’s hideous, and often welcomes me “home” or dumps me somewhere after a journey whilst handing me “plane flu”, a man-cold or a repetitive strain injury, at the same time as most people are ignorant to the fact that I might be jetlagged or in a version of shock. Ending any trip is the most awesome feeling of elation and accomplishment, yet immediately after the smiles, it’s possibly the biggest anti-climax and strongest feeling of loneliness I have ever felt. Many Olympic medal winners feel the same, so I’ve heard. There’s only one thing for it… start seeking the next one!

Sarah Menzies, a filmmaker based out of Seattle currently working on Afghan Cycles, a feature length documentary about the brave women riding bike in Afghanistan. Sarah founded her production company Let Media in 2012.

“Since I was a young kid, I knew I wanted to see the world. I’ve figured out a way to make those dreams come true when I became a filmmaker. My job takes me all over the world and I love it. The first few years of this work had me living on the road, out of a bag. I felt free. I’m actually renting a place right now, which I’m still getting used to. I’ve never looked at drawers the same way. I can actually unpack my bag now! While life with a home base has been an adjustment in and of itself, my recovery time from trips has totally changed. Life used to be one big trip that I was on. I like the balance of renting because it allows me to nurture a community and my relationships. I just got a dog! But I lack balance in the coming and going. When I get home from a production, it takes me a few days to find my normal again. I miss the sights, smells, conversations that I have when I’m on the road. It’s hard to tell stories from those experiences to my loved ones who were not with me, so I often feel lonely after a trip. Loneliness also comes in the form of missing all the people I met on those trips. My brain easily wanders as I think about those new friends and wonder if I’ll ever get to see them again. But as a filmmaker, I’m in a unique position because I get to relive those experiences (again and again!) as I work through an edit and share the final piece. As I edit something near and dear to my heart, I can almost feel those places, people, and even smells wrap around me and give me a big hug. It lessens the blow of re-entry, and helps give me closure with a trip and strength to move on to the next one.”

Cristina Mittermeier, is a Mexican-born photographer and conservationist, former President of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and a SONY Artisan. Her work has been featured in museums, art shows books and magazines, including National Geographic. She was recently assigned as a judge for the World Press Photo Award.

“The work of the photojournalist is exciting and stimulating but make no mistake, it also requires tremendous sacrifice. It demands infinite energy, tireless enthusiasm, a spirit of adventure, the ability to survive under difficult circumstances and the courage to confront danger. It can be all consuming, which makes for lonely spouses and neglected children. So, I confess. After so many years of being a nomad, all I want these days is to be home. Without a doubt, when the next assignment comes, I will be as excited and ready to go on another adventure, but for now I crave the comforting routine of a small, uncomplicated existence. I know it won’t last long and pretty soon I will be packing again, so while I am here, I like to pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist and I savor the beauty of the simple, everyday stuff.” 

Chris Burkard, is a photographer and World Explorer of cold, remote places. His clients include American Airlines, Nikon, Volkswagen, Apple, Fuel TV, Burton, Volcom, RVCA, Poler Stuff, Pacifico, among others, as well as having work published on over 35 national and international covers of magazines including Surfer Magazine, The New Yorker, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN.com

“I live for some of these adventures.  It is what gets my blood pumping and the hair on my skin to stand up. At the end I am happy to come home to see my family, but there are nights where I am kept up thinking about my next journey or dreaming about where I just was.  Sometimes I’ll go to a rock climbing gym to clear my mind, but I’m always thinking about my next step.” 

Flemming Bo Jensen, official Fuji X-photographer, traveler, filmmaker, has lived as a nomad for the past 5 years.

“It is always hard to come down after the high of a long road trip and adventure. The freedom of roaming through stunning landscapes, having new experiences and a new horizon every day is bliss for my soul. But after many years as a nomad I have realized everything must happen in balance. The time between adventures is equally important. It affords time to organize and fund the next adventure, time to have a daily routine, time to reflect and recharge. And most importantly, it reminds me how fortunate I am to have the freedom to do these adventures.”

Cody Howard from Huckin Huge Films

“Coming back from an adventure or trip of a lifetime to the hustle of the city always reminds me of an important mantra: everything in moderation. Moderate your time away from city and moderate your time in the city, you’ll grow to appreciate both. Burning out is real, moderation and healthy balance is what I strive for. Back to hills for me!”

Roei Sadan, is an Israeli adventurer that cycled around the world.

“Crossing the world on a bicycle for 5 years and coming back to the same place was the hardest part of the journey. I felt like it was a dream and that I would wake up. But ultimately I didn’t have to because the journey was inside me. The world is inside me, every challenge I faced, every desert or high mountain range I crossed became a part of me. Every project that we do stays inside of us and makes us better people. I feel like I know a secret that not many people know. But I will tell you my friends, you don’t have to do a big journey or a great challenge to feel great with yourself, the things that make my day are the things that are free and open for everyone. A great day is a day that you can enjoy the miracle of the sunrise and the magic of the sunset, simple and special. You can enjoy that if you are in the middle of the city or in the middle of a wild place. Enjoy the simplicity and dream with open eyes!”

STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

FALL NEWSLETTER

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Happy is he who is awakened by the cool song of the stream, by a real voice of living nature. Each new day has for him the dynamic quality of birth.

Gaston Bachelard, French Philosopher.

ALIVE & STRONGER

My first attempt to kayak a 1,000 miles, from Victoria, on the Island of Vancouver in Canada to San Francisco, was unfortunately put to a stop on Cannon Beach in Oregon at the end of September. The story ALIVE & STRONGER has been featured on the Canoe Kayak Magazinewebsite and will be appearing in the upcoming printed issue. This ocean story is about the power of nature to shape your character; about how being able to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN can make all the difference in any given moment. It is a story about hope, humility and focusing on the things that really matter in life.

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W.I.L.D. SCHOLARSHIP

It has been just over a month since the end of the first W.I.L.D. fundraising campaign. With 86 funders, enough money was raised to send one under privileged teen to a month long NOLS sea kayaking immersion camp in the summer of 2015, airfare included.

Since then, I have been busy organizing the perks and looking for the lucky teen. Collaborating with ETC (Environmental Traveling Companions), an amazing organization based in San Francisco, that enables people with disabilities and disadvantaged youth to access the wilderness and develop an environmental stewardship, I can proudly say that before the end of the year, I will announce the recipient of the first W.I.L.D. Scholarship.

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NATURE VALLEY

I am extremely proud to announce that December will mark the beginning of my new partnership with NATURE VALLEY. NATURE VALLEY understands the power and reach it has to promote a healthy lifestyle and the value of stepping out into nature to restore our human spirit.

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Their campaign #GetOutThere, their project TrailView and their recent involvement with Erik Weihenmayer is only the beginning of their expanded focus. I am extremely honored to have been invited to be a part of it.

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THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT COLLECTION

I am presently working with an amazing San Francisco-based designer and master calligraphy Nobuhiro Sato to create a beautiful collection of WILD IMAGE products that will include t-shirts, merino hoodies, mugs, greeting cards, tote bags, water bottles and more.

The inspiration for the collection comes from the simplicity of a brush stroke to illustrate the purity and serenity of nature. The collection will soon be available through my online store – built by Coffee and Magic, and various distribution locations across the country. If you want to be notified when the collection will be available, please contact me.

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SALSA CYCLES

One of the beauties of sea kayaking is the pace – fast enough to cover some distance, yet slow enough that you can feel and experience all that this world has to offer. There is something primal and satisfying about feeling the elements, the rain, the wind, the sun. You can smell the fragrances of the ocean, the distinct aroma of a bay, the seaweed, the breath of a whale, the stench of ammonia from a bird colony. There is also something exhilarating about experiencing the vulnerability felt when encountering wild animals that are bigger than you, in a vessel that offers almost no protection.

Biking is kayak’s earthy equivalent – in every way possible. It is a lifestyle and a way of experiencing life. It is the desire to slow down… STOP, BREATHE, RELAX, LISTEN and honor the beauty around us.

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So it is with great pleasure that I am announcing my new partnership with SALSA Cycles. I plan on spending as much time on the water as off and my new Fargo TI is the perfect vehicle to explore the remote roads of North America. Equipped with my THULE gear and photo equipment I will be able to share my experiences with you wherever I go.

As a modern-day explorer, it’s hard to differentiate yourself; Daniel Fox, through his unique lens, has found a powerful way to do just that. His vision is innovative, his passion palpable. It’s exactly these characteristics that speak to (and inspire) his audience, which at Salsa Cycles, we feel is the same as ours—adventure enthusiasts, addicts and ambassadors. His talents, particularly in the photography department, match his lofty ambitions, and we’re excited to see what next peak he can summit!” Justin Julian, Salsa Cycles


PUBLIC SPEAKING

If you find yourself around the Bay Area in December or January, I will be speaking at the REI stores in San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Corte Madera and at the Commonwealth Club of California. Click here to find out the dates.

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MARINE CONSERVATION INSTITUTE

I am truly honored to have been chosen as a Partner for the Global Ocean Refuge Systems, a contributor from the Marine Conservation Institute and for the IUCN. My photos have already been used for various projects like the Institute’s new SEA G20 STATE 2014 report and their campaign awareness cards for GLORES and MPAtlas. My work was also featured at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney this November.

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“Daniel artfully exposes the beauty of the oceans for the rest of us to enjoy and is able to capture all the beauty and splendor of marine animals in their natural environments. We look forward to working with him to help make GLORES visually accessible to people all around the world.”  Caro Dratva, director of development of Marine Conservation Institute.

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1st PRIZE ALASKA MAGAZINE

Every year, Alaska Magazine awards the top photos that capture the spirit of the Frontier State. For this year’s Annual Photo Contest, the magazine has given my Steller sealion photo taken at Middle Pass, Inian Islands, Alaska the 1st prize in the Wildlife Category.

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MEDIA

A quick summary of recent media coverage.

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS

With December around the corner, it is amazing that already the year 2014 is about to end. Looking ahead to a promising and exciting 2015, I wish you wonderful and joyous holiday season. Be sure to take the time to STOP, BREATHE, RELAX and LISTEN.

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.The very reason why we exist is to explore, connect, and experience.” The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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Feel the Wild

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I will be giving talks at REI stores and at the Commonwealth Club in December and January. See the dates and locations below. Looking forward to seeing you all.

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Lessons from Photographing the Wilderness

What is it like to be sitting on the grass 10 feet away from a one-ton bison as it slowly passes by you, staring at you. To have a brown bear challenging you 15 feet away. How to embrace the chaotic world of nature and find the magic nature has to offer. How to find inspiration even in the worst of times. Doing photography in the wilderness is more than simply observing a wild world through the lens, but it is chance to connect with the world around, to capture that connection that unites us to all species roaming this planet. This presentation is about becoming a better photographer by learning from nature. It is also about using technology in a constructive way and not getting overwhelmed by it.

REI San Francisco, December 3rd

REI San Jose, December 9th

REI Berkeley, December 10th

REI Corte Madera, January 14th

 

The Commonwealth Club

 

The Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit

Storyteller, explorer and photographer Daniel Fox brings you along on his journey into the wild. From grizzly bears in Alaska to crocodile-like caimans in Argentina, the images of his journeys bring the contours of the wilderness into stark relief and make clear the inherent connection between humans and the natural world. Join us as his stories of the depths of wildlife provide an opportunity for all of us to come feel the power of nature through the eyes of Daniel Fox!

San Francisco, January 22th

Salsa

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One of the beauties of sea kayaking is the pace – fast enough to cover some distance, yet slow enough that you can feel and experience all that this world has to offer. There is something primal and satisfying about feeling the elements, the rain, the wind, the sun. You can smell the fragrances of the ocean, the distinct aroma of a bay, the seaweed, the breath of a whale, the stench of ammonia from a bird colony. There is also something exhilarating about experiencing the vulnerability felt when encountering wild animals that are bigger than you, in a vessel that offers almost no protection.

Biking is kayak’s earthy equivalent – in every way possible. It is a lifestyle and a way of experiencing life. It is the desire to slow down and honor the beauty around us.

So it is with great pleasure that I am announcing my new partnership with SALSA Cycles. As I plan on spending as much time on the water as off the water, my Fargo TI will give me the perfect vehicle to explore the remote dirt roads of North America. Equipped with THULE gear, I will be able to carry all my gear and photo equipment and continue reporting from the field.

“As a modern-day explorer, it’s hard to differentiate yourself; Daniel Fox, through his unique lens, has found a powerful way to do just that. His vision is innovative, his passion palpable. It’s exactly these characteristics that speak to (and inspire) his audience, which at Salsa Cycles, we feel is the same as ours—adventure enthusiasts, addicts and ambassadors. His talents, particularly in the photography department, match his lofty ambitions, and we’re excited to see what next peak he can summit!” Justin Julian, Salsa Cycles

#GetOutThere Nature Valley

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I am extremely proud to announce that December will mark the beginning of my new partnership with NATURE VALLEY. Reaching beyond being a simple company of granola and protein bars, NATURE VALLEY understands the power and reach it has to promote a healthy lifestyle and our need of nature to restore our human spirit.

Their campaign #GetOutThere, their project TrailView and their recent involvement with Erik Weihenmayer is only the tip of what they have in plan for the future and I am extremely thrilled that I am going to be a part of it!

By becoming one of their official contributors, NATURE VALLEY gives me an incredible platform from which I can expand my mission of bridging the teachings of the wilderness to the public and my campaign STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN.

Make sure to follow their INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK page as my content will appear on their feed periodically, starting in December.

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W.I.L.D. – Update

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It has been a little over 3 weeks since the end of the first W.I.L.D. fundraising campaign. With 86 funders, enough money was raised to send one under privileged teen to a month long NOLS sea kayaking immersion camp in the summer of 2015, airfare included.

Since then, I have been busy organizing the perks and looking for the lucky teen. Collaborating with ETC (Environmental Traveling Companions), an amazing organization based in San Francisco, that enables people with disabilities and disadvantaged youth to access the wilderness and develop an environmental stewardship, I can proudly say that before the end of the year, I will announce the recipient of the first W.I.L.D. Scholarship.

I am also working with an amazing artist, Nobuhiro Sato, on creating the brand identity for the Power of Nature to Restore of Human Spirit – STOP . BREATHE . RELAX. LISTEN, that will be featured on a new series of mugs, t-shirts, greeting cards, tote bags and much more.  These are the mugs that the ones who have donated $50 and more will received.

For those who have contributed $20 and more, your THANK YOU postcards will be mailed next week.

The prints, which were part of the $250 and more contribution, will be sent before the end of year.

A big thank you to Next Adventure, Icebreaker, Voltaic Systems and everybody who has contributed to the campaign.

Alive and Stronger

I have a story to share with you.

It is a story about the power of nature to shape your character.

It is a story about how being able to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN can make all the difference in any given moment.

It is a story about hope, humility and focusing on the things that really matter in life.

After completing my paddle on the coast of Washington State and stopping in Portland to talk with several groups about my W.I.L.D. campaign, it was time to continue my journey to San Francisco.

In the days prior to my departure, I was keeping track of the weather. The forecast now was the same for the week ahead … strong southerly winds would blow 15 to 25 knots, rain would be consistent and the swell from the West would increase as the week went by. The weather system was due to calm down beginning the next weekend.

I had my waypoints marked down and even though I had many challenging paddling days ahead, I was excited to get back on the water. In my head, the song “Against the Wind” by Bob Seger was already playing on repeat.

My departure time from Astoria was set by the tide. I didn’t want to fight the tide coming in and leaving with the ebb tide meant that I would get a double push – the river and the tide. So at noon, slack time, I left the marina.

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The conditions were much different than when I paddled in the Columbia River several days ago. I was now doing 6 knots in speed and to my right there were big breakers stretching for miles. The Columbia Bar was living up to its reputation.

Keeping my distance, I rounded the danger zone and passed the South Jetty. My plan was to tuck in right after. The jetty would offer that protected path I needed to land on the beach. But the swell was coming dead on and pounding my landing spot full force. I had two choices: to go back into the Columbia River against the current, avoiding all the breakers and finding my way to the shore or to keep going.

Seaside was 17 miles away. There was a little spot that offered a possible landing; then after that, about 6 miles from there, around Tillamook Head, was Indian Beach. It was a protected cove that, after looking at the marine and aerial maps, offered a safe stop. In the worst-case scenario, I would most likely be landing in the dark, but with the current conditions, a West swell, the cove would be fairly flat … or so I thought. I decided to go forward and paddle.

It was a hot day. There was not a cloud in the sky. The sea was almost metallic due to the absence of wind. Sooty Shearwaters flew all around me, gliding over the water with ease, the tip of their wings just slightly touching the surface. These birds have truly evolved to become a perfect oceanic flying creature.

It was 7pm when I reached Seaside. The swell was still pounding the shore with massive surf and now my chances of landing before sunset were disappearing. I looked for an opening somewhere – anywhere. I saw one. Not too far, there was a place where the surf seemed to be dying down. After timing the sets, I started paddling in. And then at the last minute, just before reaching the point of no return, three massive waves appeared, breaking just 10 feet ahead of me. I looked at the clouds of white seawater rising up into the sky, the roaring of the waves crashing and suddenly it became clear to me that there was no way my feet would be touching sand this evening. The sun had disappeared over the horizon and in about an hour it would be totally dark.

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My next waypoint, Indian Beach, around the Tillamook Head, was about two hours away. I reached behind and opened my day hatch to get my headlamp out. The thought of spending the night on the water was starting to be a reality. It was the last thing I wanted to do but my chances of finding my way into a sleeping bag were fading.

With still no clouds, the sky was filled with stars. The Milky Way was intense and imposing. A shooting star crossed the sky. And then another. The bioluminescence was showing strong. The kayak left stark glowing white trails on the black surface. My paddle cut through the water and created explosions of glitter. Every time a drop of water fell on the kayak, it scintillated. I wonder for a second if I really wanted to get to shore. If I was to spend the night on the ocean, these were the be the dreamiest, prefect conditions. This could actually turn out to be one incredible night!

I checked my phone and I looked at my location. The cove was only a mile away now. I would be there around 9pm. The weather forecast had predicted 20 knots winds but up until then they seemed nowhere to be found.

As I approached the area and shortly after dreaming of a nice night landing, staying up late doing photography of this magical bioluminescent evening,  I passed the point and found myself battling the expected headwinds.

One more check on the map and my safety zone was supposed to be right ahead. But the only thing I saw and heard were the glowing whitecaps of thunderous surf. How could this be? The swell was coming from the west and the sheltered bay entrance faced south. How was it that the swell was now heading straight into the cove? Aside from this waypoint, there was nothing around for at least 20 miles that could offer relief. I remembered from the map that there was a path into the cove, but it was dark. I couldn’t see anything but the crash of waves. I looked at the map again and oriented myself. There was a series of rocks ahead that should offer protection. So I went for it.

Just a minute into my push, I heard this massive roar behind me and within seconds, I was upside down being pummeled from all directions. Suddenly, my paddle snapped in two. I come back up in time to take a breath before another one came over. I capsized again and this time I couldn’t roll back. The beating and the broken paddle left me no choice but to wet exit.

Lucky to have a break, I managed to get back in, grabbed the spare paddle from my stern, tucked the skirt over the now-filled-with-water cockpit and pushed my way forward as hard as I could. Now more than ever, I knew I would have to spend the night on the water and the under the Milky Way, but by at this point the stars and glowing oceans were the last things on my mind.

Out of the surf zone, I pumped the water out and assessed the situation. I had been paddling for 10 hours, covering about 38 miles. I was tired and my hands hurt. Despite the drysuit, the cold from that unfortunate dip into the Pacific waters was seeping into my body. I had to keep moving. I had to keep my muscles, my body producing energy and heat. I hadn’t had dinner – besides the food I had consumed during the day. I had an emergency ration of jerky and bars but in these conditions I could hardly stop to eat. So I pushed forward. I looked ahead and the irony of the situation hit me. Lights of Cannon Beach were almost within grasp, perhaps no more than half a mile. I pictured the people in their houses, watching television, enjoying a glass a wine, and kissing their children goodnight. And here I was, in a totally different world where my life, my existence was on the verge of being questioned. How could this be? Within such close proximity to be finding such extreme different realities?

I had no choice but to keep paddling. Even if I was barely making progress, the options were simply not there for me. How would I make through the night? I didn’t know and I couldn’t stop to think about it. My only way to survival was to take one minute at a time, find comfort in that minute passed and focus on passing the next.

And then my worst fear happened. I started to shiver.

I know my body. I have always been pretty tolerant of the cold. I grew up in Quebec with winters in the minus 20’s. But the moment that my body shivers, it is only a question of minutes before I start to tremble and loose control of my shaking muscles. The option of spending the night on the ocean was no more viable. There was no way I could stay in this kayak for another 7 hours and not go into hypothermia.

There are risks you can afford if you are with other people. But when alone, the last place you want to find yourself is in a cornered place with no exit, no possible call for help. I did have my SOS button, a cell phone and a VHF as a lifeline but I felt I I hadn’t yet played all my cards.

Looking over to my left, I noticed a campfire on the beach and was surprised to see how close I was to it, perhaps just 40 yards. Despite the light of the houses further away, I was really not that far from land. Still, between the beach and myself was a wall of crashing waves. Between my current predicament and the safety of landing was a world of horrible possibilities, each with the power of turning my situation to the worst. There was no way for these people to see or hear me. And even if they had, there was nothing they could do. For me, there was little I could do but start looking into confronting the surf.

My eyes focused on the silhouette made by the water line, trying to figure out the rhythm of the sets. To be honest there was not much to decipher in the dark. I took a deep breath and relaxed for a second. I closed my eyes and asked the ocean to keep an eye on me. I started paddling toward the surf. A wave crashed. I stopped. I hesitated. I went again. And like a “deja vu”, I heard the roaring mounting behind me, like a giant monster rising from the depths and about to engulf me with one bite. Grasping for the impact I filled my lungs with as much air as I could.

The weight of the Pacific landed on my back with such tremendous force that I felt the kayak breaking in two. It was not like trying to rip a piece of fiberglass apart. The kayak literally snapped in two halves like a dry twig. The ring of the cockpit was broken but my skirt was still around it. I was in the water being ravaged by the surf, tied to the waist with a piece of the kayak on each side of me.

All this time I was thinking I had to get out of there as soon as possible. I didn’t like the idea of finding myself in between two loose 8-feet long pieces of broken fiberglass tubes filled with gear. It wouldn’t take much for them to crush my ribs and cut my waist. I tried to pull on the handle of the skirt but it was not working. I was simply pulling the loose cockpit ring toward me. Still, wiggling it non-stop I finally managed to get it off.

Free from the kayak’s entrails, I swam around it. The kayak was still held together by some rope and some stripes. My last paddle was now gone. Putting myself in-between the in-coming surf and the boat, I started swimming and pushing one of kayak pieces forward. You never want to find yourself with a kayak, or a board, behind you in the surf! There has been too many accidents where people were knocked unconscious by flying objects. Every wave pushed me and the kayak closer to the beach. About 15 minutes later, I felt the sand under my feet.

I got up and grabbed the bow handle in one hand and the stern handle in the other and started pulling the wreck as far up passed the tide line as I could before collapsing. I opened the back hatch, pulled out the bivy and sleeping bag. Slipped out of the drysuit and into my sleeping quarters.

It was midnight. I didn’t care for food or anything else. My hands were bloody with cuts all over. All I wanted was to lay still and warm myself up. I was safe, in one piece and that was the most important thing at that moment.. Nature had reminded me of the fickleness of life and how little control we have over it.

Over the last 5 hours I had experienced sheer beauty, joy, happiness, deception, pain, frustration, and had faced the indifference of a world that was bigger than me. Laying on the sand next to my wrecked kayak, I was not angry nor was I afraid. I was simply grateful to be alive. As I pulled the zipper up leaving blood marks on the fabric, I thanked the ocean for its protection, closed my eyes and went to sleep.

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These experiences, as unfortunate as they may seem, are defining moments in your life. They form your character and change your perception of the world around you forever. My crash happened on Sunday the 21st at midnight, exactly one month to the day after I departed from Victoria. I can’t help but smile at the fact this paddle was for my W.I.L.D. Campaign raising money to send under-privileged youth to a “month” long immersion wilderness camp.

Life is not about avoiding the crashes but rather finding ways to get back up and transform these seemingly negative events into positive, productive experiences.

These are the discovery and leadership lessons nature provides us when we open ourselves to the experience.

Although this 1,000-mile paddle to San Francisco has come to an unexpected, abrupt end, the W.I.L.D. campaign is far from over; my commitment to the campaign is stronger than ever.

More to come on that in the following weeks.

Summer Newsletter

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As I am about to embark on a 2 1/2 month long paddle, I am reminded of a quote sent to me by a friend. In her poem Stanzas, Emily Blonte writes:

“Often rebuked, yet always back returning to those first feelings that were born with me… I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading. It vexes me to choose another guide… The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling. Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.”

I spent the last 3 months exploring the wilderness of Alaska, letting nature be my guide and mentor. Always grounding me to what is essential in life, I experienced profound insights, humility and was welcomed by love everywhere I went.


W.I.L.D.

Our connection to nature is deeply rooted but if it is not experienced at a young age it is most likely that it will never find an anchor on which it can grown. Wilderness immersion camps are for me one of the most precious ways to ignite the bond we have with the planet.

I believes that immersion in nature is an important part of our development, especially during our early, formative years when it is so critical to discover who we are, develop strong self-esteem, begin to adopt leadership skills, challenge our physical well-being and acquire the capacity to live a balance life in a world dominated by technology.

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W.I.L.D. – Wilderness Immersion for Leadership and Discovery, aims is to give youth, especially under-privileged teens, the opportunity to experience first-hand the positive impact nature can have on their lives. The goal is to motivate them to explore and discover the natural world and understand how experiencing the beauty and challenges inherent in nature can lead to enhancing their self-confidence and developing valuable leadership skills

Our wish is to have their testimonials and experiences reach ​ ​and positively impact other teens and their families and inspire them to Experience the W.I.L.D


1,000-MILE FUNDRAISING PADDLE

For my first W.I.L.D. campaign, I will raise the necessary funds to send a small group of under privileged teens to a 30-day Sea Kayaking camp in Alaska in the summer of 2015. The wilderness immersion camp will be given by the internationally known and extremely well reputed National Outdoors Leadership School (N.O.L.S.).

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Launching in the third week of August, I will paddle from Victoria on Vancouver Island to San Francisco, a journey of 1,000 miles. The 2 1/2 month paddle will be at the core of a Indiegogo campaign. Click here – INREACH tracking & FACEBOOK, to follow this amazing journey!

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Find out more about how you can contribute and the wonderful rewards you can get. These teens will be changed forever, transformed and more deeply connected with the planet. Lets make this happen!

“The most rewarding part of this course was getting out of my element, and experiencing nature at its fullest.” Thomas W. Southeast Alaska NOLS Sea Kayaking Grad

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STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

Over the course of the next 6 months I will be announcing the launch for my new line of merchandize. Partnering with my sponsors, I will be offering tote bags, merino hoodies, t-shirts, mugs and much more with the mantra STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN on one side and The Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit on the other.

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STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN – The Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit is the foundation of my narrative and the message behind my work.

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SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL PHOTO GOLD AWARD

August 9th was the opening of the San Francisco International Photo exhibition. My photo LO won one of the GOLD awards. Judged by Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director and Curator, Griffin Museum of Photography, the winning photos are on display at the Gallery Photographica, in San Francisco, 3265 17th Street, near the corner of 17th and Mission Streets, until August 24th.

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ALASKA 2014

It is now my second summer in Alaska. Last year I paddled from Sitka to Hoonah, from Tenekee to Hoonah and hiked around Mendenhall Glacier. This time I decided to return to Juneau and visit the famous brown bears of Pac Creek.

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I then went back to the Mendenhall Glacier but this time kayaking the lake and exploring the icebergs.

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Next stop was the Taku Glacier, up the Taku River. The highlight of this paddle was kayaking at night with the orcas, humpback whales and the plankton blooming. Listen to my radio interview on KTOO, public radio in Juneau.

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Finally, I spent 6 weeks on the island of Kodiak. The first paddle was to the island of Afognak and the second one – a 150-mile paddle down the Pacific coast south of Kodiak. Listen to my radio interview on KMXT Kodiak Public Radio and watch my tv interview on KTUU Alaska channel 4 NBC. Check the KODIAK & JUNEAU PINTEREST for a wonderful photo recap with many bears, minks, glaciers and much more.

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Explorer and Storyteller, Daniel Fox, Believes in the Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit – on ABC

On August 7th, while in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow, I was invited to pass by ABC’s studio for a live interview and talk about my work and the photography I did on Antelope Island.

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OUTDOOR RETAILER 2014

Every year I do my best to attend the Outdoor Retailer trade show and reconnect with all my sponsors. This year I had an even bigger reason to attend as my main sponsors Wilderness Systems and Adventure Technology had a big wall with my photography and excerpts from my stories. The photos were a great success and comments poured in. From the Press Release:

“…At the Outdoor Retailer trade show next week, we are displaying some of Daniel Fox’s work (see the example in the montage above!) at our booth. It not only serves as a beautiful reminder of why we love to get outside and play, but it just might touch you in ways you wouldn’t have expected. Our goal is to inspire you to explore a world without boundaries and ask you to think about this:  “Isn’t it time you looked at life with a new perspective?…”

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KOKATAT also featured my photography – which appeared in this year’s catalog. Their booth’s front banner had my Owl (top middle), the Morning Reflection (middle center), my photo of professional kayakers Kate Hives (bottom left) and Paul Kuthe (bottom right)

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Voltaic Systems which has been supporting me with solar panels and long lasting batteries had this shot for their full backdrop. What a great presence at this year’s OR!!

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MOUNTAIN KHAKIS

Mountain Khakis has been believing and supporting my work since the beginning. I am honored to be featured in there 2015 catalog! So great being part of such a wonderful team of dedicated people, working relentlessly at delivering the best products. Thank you MK!

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MORE MINUTE OF NATURE

The series now has 24 videos. Watched by thousands, the videos have been the perfect platform to share my insights and the material I find inspirational. Promoting the need to disconnect by being in the moment – even just for 60 seconds, the series is a call for action to find balance in our ever-connected lives.

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MINUTE OF NATURE – CAPE ALITAK
Woody, plant manager at the Alitak Cannery and author of the book “Cape Alitak Petroglyphs: From the Old People” writes about a life changing event as a child while paddling with a whale

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MINUTE OF NATURE – THREE SAINTS HARBOR
The benefits of wilderness immersion, a quote from Casey Lyons at Backpacker Magazine and a myriad of moon jellyfish at Three Saints Harbor, Kodiak Alaska


STAY TUNED & THANK YOU!

I hope to get your support for the W.I.L.D. campaign. Don’t forget to follow the expedition via InReach and Facebook. And most important, find the time in the day to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN. 

W.I.L.D.

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Anyone who I know who enjoys the outdoors or cares for the natural word can recall a time and place in their youth when they found themselves out there in nature and felt that connection, that primal bond that unites us to this planet and to life. For me that connection was so strong that I simply never wanted to let it go. When I was a kid, I just loved to roam the woods, fish the lakes, explore the ponds or climb the trees. It is in these moments that I felt alive. So my best childhood memories are from a great number of summer camps I went to. They were my definition of a candy store. And the things I learned during these magical summers still impact my life today.

I love the work I do and I know that people appreciate it too. But I have always felt that something really important was missing. If these experiences when you are a kid are so important in the development of our appreciation of nature, what was I doing to make sure that they experience the wilderness like I did when I was young? I knew I was not the type the bring children along on my trips but there had to be a way.  A couple of years ago I met Geoff Green and I got to hear from the children themselves how his program Students on Ice had changed their lives. Recently during a paddle, the pieces came together.

I am extremely please to announce the beginning of W.I.L.D. (see press release below) My expeditions and outings will now have for main purpose to raise funds and send underprivileged teens to wildness immersion camps. So to kick off my new venture, I will kayak from Victoria, BC to San Francisco in hope to raise 10K and send 2 teens on a month long sea kayaking NOLS wilderness camp. I plan on starting this 1,000 mile paddle mid-August.

Stay tuned for more news! 

PRESS RELEASE

 

W.I.L.D.

Wilderness Immersion for Leadership & Discovery

“a 1,000-mile paddle on the Pacific Coast to raise funds and send under-privilege teens to a wilderness immersion camp…”

INTRODUCTION

The Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit is the belief that forms the foundation of Daniel Fox’s work. Through his personal experiences in the wilderness, his captivating stories and his “Minute of Nature” video series, he shares with us the impact that being with nature, even if only for a minute, can have on our digitally-driven lives. Sometimes philosophical, sometimes challenging us to stop and reflect, his stories, his photography and his videos help us pause and recall our own experiences with nature.

 

BELIEFS

W.I.L.D. (Wilderness Immersion for Leadership & Discoveries), a not-for-profit organization, believes that immersion in nature is an important part of our development, especially during our early, formative years when it is so critical to discover who we are, develop strong self-esteem, begin to adopt leadership skills, challenge our physical well-being and acquire the capacity to live a balance life in a world dominated by technology.

Unfortunately many of todays’ youth are immersed in a totally different reality. Living in front of the computer, the television omnipresent and socially connected via smartphones, they spend little time in nature and rarely disconnect from technology. If their lives exist on the “screen” now, it’s unrealistic to think they will have the desire to connect with the natural world as they mature. Yet, humans have always been connected with nature; 99.9% of our evolution comes from living in natural environments and our psychological underpinning is still entrenched in many ways with nature.

It’s interesting to note that the marketing world has leveraged our attachment to nature for a long time, selling products and services aimed at our “green” subconscious or pricing homes and resorts by the sea, in serene remote areas or in the mountains at higher rates than urban properties – bringing the ultimate luxury – being able to disconnect, relax and de-stress from our hectic lifestyle. We seem to have no problem in valuing nature when we need that rare escape but are not as willing to elevate nature as a more regular part of our lives.*

 

AIM

Knowing the importance of today’s youth in shaping the future, our initial effort is targeted on giving teens, especially under-privileged ones between the ages of 16 and 20, the opportunity to experience first-hand the positive impact nature can have on their lives through wilderness immersion camps. The aim being at helping them wanting to explore and discover the natural world and understand how experiencing the beauty and ultimate challenges, inherent in nature can lead to enhancing their self-confidence and help them develop valuable leadership skills.

Over time, we will be expanding our reach to include college students and business leaders.

 

FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGNS

For our first campaign W.I.L.D. will raise the necessary funds to send a group of teens to a 30-day Sea Kayaking camp** in Alaska in the summer of 2015. The wilderness immersion camp will be given by the internationally known and extremely well reputed National Outdoors Leadership School (N.O.L.S.).

“The most rewarding part of this course was getting out of my element, and experiencing nature at its fullest.” Thomas W. Southeast Alaska NOLS Sea Kayaking Grad

To kick off the campaign, Fox, an avid solo explorer and experienced kayaker who has paddled several hundred miles across all kinds of water will set-off from Victoria, British Columbia and paddle to San Francisco, California along the Pacific Coast. The 1,000-Mile Pacific Coast Paddle will take approximately 2 ½ months to complete.

Throughout his journey, Fox will be stopping along the route, speaking with the media and at events as well as posting his experiences on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms.

During his 2½-month expedition, social media and news releases targeted at under-privileged teens and their families will invite them to submit an entry to the competition on why would they want to experience a 30-day sea kayaking wilderness NOLS camp and what they hope to take away from their experience.

To quote Fox:

“No one can possibly understand how impactful and inspiring nature can be until they are actually immersed in it. I want to encourage in these teens an interest in discovering our world, ask them to describe what they think it would be like to step away from their day-to-day world, to feel the beauty and experience the challenges of a non-urban environment. 

We all know the first step in any journey is envisioning it. By having them write about it and describe why they want to be there; having them share what they long for, we have already moved one step closer to bringing nature into their lives. Our goal is to have their testimonials and experiences to reach, and positively impact other teens and their families and inspire them to Experience the W.I.L.D.”     

 

For inquiries contact Daniel Fox daniel@wildimageproject.com

 

ABOUT DANIEL FOX

A Wilderness Systems sponsored sea kayaker, a Kokatat Ambassador, a Deuter Ambassador and a Delorme Ambassador, Fox, a Canadian based in San Francisco, is a storyteller, explorer and photographer. He writes about nature an exploration and shares his experiences with the public through his blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms. (http://wildimageproject.com)

ABOUT N.O.L.S.

Since legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt founded the school in 1965, more than 230,000 students have graduated from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the leader in wilderness education. Whether through field-based courses offered in some of the most awe-inspiring locations in the world or classroom-based courses, the school provides transformative educational experiences to students of all ages. Graduates emerge as active leaders with lifelong environmental ethics and outdoor skills. To discover the NOLS experience or to bring a course to your business or organization, call (800) 710-NOLS (6657) or visit www.nols.edu.

 

* For additional reference on this topic, you can read more in these books and published articles: Blue Minds by Wallace Nichols, The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, Your Brain on Nature by Alan C. Logan. Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California by the American Institutes for Research, Campfire Kids: Going Back to Nature with Forest Kindergartens, NOLS Research Wilderness Immersion Benefits. These all highlight the benefits of spending time with nature. More recently, an article in the Outside magazine, Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning explored how Japan is financially investing in making its citizen spend time in the forest.

** Since 1971, NOLS students have been exploring the wilds of Alaska in sea kayaks. Theres no better way to take in Alaska’s dramatic coastline than by gliding on the water. Read more information about the trip and organization here.

 

Death is Nature

The warm light from the morning spring sun spread over the bay and the mountains like gold dust. The snow up above the tree line was slowly disappearing, the edges of every little ravines and crevasses turning to black – I have always loved the mountains at this time of the year, the contrast of the imagery so dramatic. Everything was magical. The musical notes from a nearby Pacific wren echoed across the bay playing a melody that just reinforced this empyrean moment. As if on cue, a doe and its one year old fawn came out of the woods and started walking onto the beach. The bay was a vast tide flat with a long sand bar that almost geographically cut the bay in two. The tide was rising and soon this landscape of mud, gravel and wet grass would disappear and transform itself. A world dominated by walking and flying creatures would become a world where the ones who can swim rule.

Song of a Pacific Wren

 

The doe walked confident, heading for the tip of the sand bar while the fawn seemed hesitant as the water got closer and the sand path narrower. As they reached the point, I stared, curious to see what they would do – go back, swim perpendicular and head to the beach or swim straight ahead and cross to the other side of the bay. To my surprise the doe simply stayed on course aiming for the shore across. In the water and having swam half of the distance, the young deer stopped and turned around – doubting its capacity to make the short crossing. Looking through my binoculars, I witnessed the distance between the two increase as the mother stayed on her course. Realizing that its attempt to change the course of action hadn’t produced the goal intended, the fawn turned again bearing across, now trailing far behind its mother. While the head of the mother rose above the water, now her feet reaching the bottom, the head of the young deer disappeared and went under. The doe, after shaking the water off her body, scanned the water in search of the little one – so was I through my binoculars. After more than 15 minutes of finding nothing, it became evident that the fawn had drowned. Its mother waited on the shore for another 20 minutes until it slowly walked into the woods, stopping twice and looking back searching for any sign of life. Basking under the sun, the Pacific wren still enchanting my ears, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of tea, the serenity still permeating the air, I closed my eyes, relaxed and humble, reminded of the true nature of life. Death is an intricate and essential part of life and nature. In the wilderness it surrounds me and is everywhere I look. Yet, where there is death, life abounds. One can’t exist without the other.

“… Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” Richard Dawkins ~ River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

I have written many times of our dysfunctional and gooey perception of nature.

“As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing – real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect – evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.” STRIPPED

“Nature is raw, rough, a struggle, a fight, cruel, deadly, strong, destructive, intimidating and yes also amazing, beautiful, relaxing, humbly, and inspirational. Above it all though, it is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It teaches you about perspective and reminds you that life is not about Us, that there is something bigger than Us, mere little humans. It teaches you about the costs of life, about sacrifices and what it takes to survive. Try to understand what it means for a species to spend most of its life and energy giving birth to hundreds of thousands, even millions, just to have a handful of survivors. While all the dead ones are essential to support a complex food chain that makes this great biodiversity inhabiting the planet possible. There is nothing sad about this because this is life.” WRONG IDEA OF NATURE

“By being so physically disconnected from it, we have totally forgotten what nature really is all about. We even go as far as to personalizing it, characterizing it as a female, “Mother Nature”. This concept of singularity simply doesn’t exist. In the natural world, both constructive and destructive forces are essential. Both the attack and the defense are crucial for survival.” NATURE IS NOT IN YOUR COMPUTER

Nature gives and takes life, it creates and destroys, lifts you up and pins you down, inspires you and depresses you. And this habit of constantly referring to nature as “Mother Nature” totally nauseates me. In fact I truly believe that it sits at the core of what is wrong with our relationship with the world around us and the planet Earth. We see everything separated and unrelated instead of connected and interdependent. We are not nature. Nature is not us. Nature is an entity separated from us. Within nature, we categorize and isolate the elements and the species or create gods and goddesses at our image, so to make sense of what is bigger, bringing everything down to our level – putting the Human as the most important single denominator, the reference to which everything in the universe is compared to. Once we saw the planet earth as the center of the solar system, now we are the center of the universe, of life and of evolution.

The word “nature” derives from Latin nātūra, a philosophical term from the verb for birth, which was used as a translation for the earlier Ancient Greek term phusis which comes from the verb for natural growth. The personification of nature is nothing new but the Greeks were extremely influential for inculcating the myth – Gaia, the great mother of all, the primal Greek Mother Goddess; creator and giver of birth to the Earth and all the Universe; Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. So in that matter we associated nature primarily with its ability to give and nurture, leaving the “negative” stuff to other gods, usually of male figure. I am not saying that nature is not caring, cute and lovely but it is surely not what defines it. Nature is this dynamic world that surrounds us, it is life, it is a mix of powerful energies that encompasses everything – us included.

A dead Guanaco on the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

A dead Guanaco on the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

 

Wilderness Systems, Minutes of Nature & Bear Encounters

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SPRING NEWSLETTER

What an interesting winter it has been! Unexpected developments demanding reassessment and ultimately turning into profound insights. Needless to say, the last four months have been full of surprises. With Spring around the corner, the foundation is now set to deliver a great deal of content – images, stories and videos. But first lets go over the latest!

WILDERNESS SYSTEMS

I am incredibly happy and proud to announce the sponsorship of WILDERNESS SYSTEMS and ADVENTURE TECHNOLOGY. Winner of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Boat Brand of the Year by Canoe and Kayak Magazine and manufactured in South Carolina, Wilderness Systems’ innovative designs are tuned for performance and quality. Since 1986, they have has pushed the limits of design and innovation by refusing to compromise.

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“Wilderness Systems and Adventure Technology products have long provided the tools to access off-the-beaten-path destinations and give people an opportunity to explore their surroundings in a more intimate way,” said Evan Lyendecker, marketing manager for Wilderness Systems and Adventure Technology. “The goal of the Wild Image Project is to capture beautiful, remote places for all to experience and then inspire people to connect with their natural world, so it was a natural partnership for us. We are always looking for new ways to expose people to the wild and watery environments we depend on and care about so much, and we believe Daniel’s expedition helps foster that awareness and passion.”

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MINUTE OF NATURE

I have been working on finding a concept of short videos that would support my narrative – THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT. It was during my trip to the Bedwell River that the clarity of what I needed to do came to me.

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Let me explain to you … watch the video below. (click on the image)

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Find out about the intended goal behind the un-edited Minute of Nature – Be in the Moment! (click on the image)

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This idea of sharing with you these moments and inspirational quotes or thoughts is exactly what I have been looking for. The notion of helping you disconnect and leave the modern world behind just for one minute so that your mind can wander away and connect with that part of nature where I was able to “Stop, Breathe, Listen and Relax.” This is exactly what I strive to bring to you.

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VANCOUVER ISLAND

For the last two months, I have been kayaking and exploring the Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The Pacific Northwest is always full of adventures and discoveries and the island hasn’t disappointed.

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I started on Vargas Island just outside of Tofino and followed with the Bedwell Sound. Paddling from Victoria, I crossed the Haro Strait and explored the San Juan Island. Then came a long weekend in Telegraph Cove and Hanson Island.

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There was a wolf encounter, two bear encounters, many raccoons, plenty of rain and winds and some great paddling. Check PINTEREST for a recap.

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PATIENCE

In our culture of instant gratification, the meaning of the word PATIENCE has almost become taboo. Still, from time to time, we are forced to confront its undeniable necessity. Once again, my time in nature was responsible for bringing me perspicuity.

“It has been 15 hours since the heavy rain started. Tucked into my sleeping bag, the sound of the water droplets falling on the tent like an endless drum roll, the clarity of what has been happening these last two months just dawned on me and I just can’t help myself but start laughing. The fact that I had planned to be in Hawaii at this time, diving and kayaking with the humpback whales makes this spiritual awakening even more ludicrous. As much as I would have wanted the reality to be different, the message was clear and all around me – patience needed to be embraced…”  Read the story here

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SISU

Finnish have a word – SISU, which its literal translation is “Having Guts”. But it cannot be translated without understanding its culturally value. It sits at the core of their spirit and has, for hundreds of years, defined who they are and what they strive for.  This story is what happens when you let nature in and experience how it can truly restore the human spirit.

“…Spending a lot of time in nature and on expeditions, your perception of things changes. You stop seeing things in what they could be or could not be. You quickly forget about probabilities, odds and statistics. Your bottom line becomes extremely clear and simple – yes or no, going or not going. I have to eat. I have to find shelter. I have to survive. You might and will debate about what to do or what could be done, but there is only one state of mind – Sisu…”

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SEA KAYAKER

Last July, some friends and I kayaked from Sitka to Hoonah, a 11-day 140 miles journey along Alaska’s coastal wilderness. The story of our adventure, written by Nathaniel Stephens was featured in the magazine Sea Kayaker.

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“…In the morning, as we sipped hot coffee and looked out across the water to the north, two humpback whales breached in unison, launching their massive bodies fully airborne and flopping down in tandem with twin plumes of white spray…”

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Check the photo board on PINTEREST and the video album on VIMEO for a recap of the paddling adventure.

PEEK

I was really happy to be asked by PEEK, a leader in the traveling industry, to contribute to their TASTEMAKERS section. Planning on spending some time on the Big Island of Hawaii? Make sure to read my “PERFECT DAY“.

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MARIN MAGAZINE

“Walking the Wilderness” is a contribution between poet Ushi Patel and I, portraying the beauty of the Marin Headlands located in the Bay Area just across from San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge.

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KOKATAT

Made in the USA, this family-style company has been believing and supporting my work since the beginning. I am honored to be featured in there 2014 catalog! So great being part of such a wonderful team of dedicated people, working relentlessly at delivering the best products.

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THE MIGHTY BUFFALO

My story “The Mighty Buffalo” was featured along with some of my photos in the Bison World, the official publication of the National Bison Association.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

I am now leaving the Vancouver Island and heading north. First stop will be ATLIN, then JUNEAU, maybe the Prince Williams Sound and finally KODIAK ISLAND.

In August I will be in Salt Lake City for the Summer Outdoor Retailer Trade Show.

Coming this summer, the announcement for one of my most anticipated projects ever – which will bring my work and impact to whole new level – stay tuned!!

As always, my work wouldn’t possible without the support of my sponsors, a big thank you to all of them! WILDERNESS SYSTEMS, ADVANCE TECHNOLOGY, KOKATAT, SIERRA DESIGNS, DEUTER, MOUNTAIN KHAKIS, DELORME, THULE, SMITH OPTICS, AQUALUNG, SANDISK, DAHLGREN, ICEBREAKER, VOLTAIC SYSTEMS, SEA TO SUMMIT, ROCKY S2V, SPERRY TOP SIDER, SOG, OPTIMUS STOVES, KATADYN

SISU

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Finnish have a word – SISU, which its literal translation is “Having Guts”. But it cannot be translated without understanding its culturally value. It sits at the core of the their spirit and has, for hundreds of years, defined who they are and what they strive for. On the Finlandia University’s website, a page is dedicated at explaining it

 “Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.  Sisu is an inherent characteristic of the Finnish people. You might call it backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance.  It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end.”

In 1962 English poet Lavinia Greenlaw wrote of Sisu

 To persevere in hope of summer.
To adapt to its broken promise.
To love winter.

To sleep.

To love winter.
To adapt to its broken promise.
To persevere in hope of summer.

It is 7pm and I have about an 30 minutes of light left. I look down and can’t really see my feet – they are somehow lost under a thick canopy of ferns and branches that I have tightly wrapped around my waist. I get a glimpse of the red from my hiking shoes only when I lift them up and take a small step forward. In front of me is a green wall – trees covered by moss and in between shrubs and vines, their branches intertwining with each other so deeply tight that they give the illusion of being only one organism – a living fence! Every time I see an opening is because a mud pond or a muddy creek is revealed. Skunk cabbage is blooming and their yellow lanterns are bringing a certain eerie feeling – as if the brightness and contrast of their sunny flowers were to distract from the undeniable reality that this was a maze from where no one escapes.

Two hours before, after visiting the Red Creek Fir tree, the largest Douglas Fir in the world, I discovered that the oil pan under my car had been busted by a rock and that all the oil had leaked out. There was not a drop left in the engine and although I felt really bad for creating such a disastrous imprint from my visit, my main worry was of a different nature. I was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside of Port Renfrew, a little village with no garage or cell phone coverage where the only gas found was either bought from the marina or from some local guy who sells fuel jars or drive 70km (45 miles) to the nearest town. The road to the tree was a 15km (9m) old logging gravel road that zigzagged through the hills. Most of it was ok for a car with only a few places where extreme caution had to be taken. I thought I had managed my way through but obviously it only takes one well placed blow to make the kill. Bled to death, my car was going no where unless it was being towed.

The situation was not too tragic. I had food supplies and obviously all my camping gear. I could either camp here and wait for someone to come up but being in the off tourist season, I am not sure there would be anyone heading this way for days. The other possibility was to walk back the gravel road. At a walking average of 5km/h (3 mph) it would take me around 3 hours to reach the main paved road. The last option was to walk on an abandoned logging road for a mile, cut through the forest and cross the San Juan River where the paved road was nearby. The distance to the paved road from the abandoned one was only about 1.6 kilometer (just a little over a mile). Because of time and obviously for the short apparent distance, I decided to go with the latter solution – certainly not the safest but I was confident it could be managed.

In case that anyone would somehow show up, I left a note on the car explaining the situation. I took one of my medium size Deuter backpacks and filled it with the essentials. I wanted to be light and quick but also I didn’t really know what was ahead so I had to prepare for some unexpected. The most important was my Delorme InReach. Together with my iPhone, I knew where I was and where I was going and in case of emergency I could always press the rescue button or send text messages via satellite. At 5h30pm, I left the car and started to jog. I needed to cover as much distance as possible while I could. I quickly reached the end of the abandoned road and ahead of me was a little bit of clear cut area with the forest perhaps 50 yards away. The fun was about to begin!

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Every pin represents 10 minutes of traveling

The beginning was your typical new growth forest – sparse trees, shrubs and ferns but as I got closer to the the river, the bushes became thicker and the damp soil became swampy. Maneuvering my way through, I got to the river. At this time of the year, before the spring melt, the San Juan River was relatively low. The flow was still really strong and could easily sweep you off. Studying the topography I looked for a shallow passage across. The shallowness would increase the strength of the current but would give me more stability. I took my socks and shoes off, rolled my pants and proceeded. It didn’t take long for the glacial water to numb my feet and make every step painful. Halfway through, the current was too strong and even though I only had water passed up my knees, my bare feet were too weak to hold a stand. Every small step demanded all the strength in my legs to hold still. I felt that I was just on the verge of loosing my balance. So real slowly I turned around and carefully retreated. I would have to change my approach. I took my pants off and put my shoes back on. At this stage, I would trade dry feet for a steady foot. Finding a place a bit deeper I took another shot. The freezing water violently hit my thighs but my mind was in no mood of dealing with the issue, more concern about keeping myself in control. I was now carrying my backpack on the top of my shoulders with the water passed my waist. Looking ahead, the depth was steady – good! But about 2 meters away the opposite shore, the river took a dip but lucky enough there was a tree right before that was diverting the current. Now with water mid torso, I quickly covered the remaining short distance and climbed up the bank. The skin from below my chest all the way to my toes was bright red as if I had fallen asleep under the sun for hours. The river was now behind. Relieved and with my pants back on, I choose to leave the socks off, in case I would still be in the forest by nightfall, I needed to be able to warm my feet.

There were no trails or even slight openings where I could enter into the woods. There was also no way to search the river bank for one. There was only thing to do, push my way through. Imagine a football field covered with people, packed like sardines, every one with their arms across holding on each other and you have to walk from end to the other carrying a backpack that sticks out above your head. Add a swampy floor littered with dead petrified trees covered in moss that break almost every time you step on them, muddy creeks that suck your boots right off and vines full of thorns that will scratch deep into your skin every chance they have. At 0.70 km/h (0.45 mph) it took me 90 minutes to cover 1 kilometer (0.6 mile). At 7h45 pm I was finally stepping out of the Pacific Northwest rainforest and onto the paved road. An hour after walking on the road direction Port Renfrew, a pickup passed by. Waving my headlamp and arms in the air, the driver agreed to take me into town. The next day, the tow truck* met me at the hotel and together we went to pick up the car. The entire ordeal, from the hotel to the car and to the nearest garage was close to 6 hours. 

Spending a lot of time in nature and on expeditions, your perception of things changes. You stop seeing things in what they could be or could not be. You quickly forget about probabilities, odds and statistics. Your bottom line becomes extremely clear and simple – yes or no, going or not going. I have to eat. I have to find shelter. I have to survive. You might and will debate about what to do or what could be done, but there is only one state of mind – Sisu. However long it takes, whatever it takes, the choice has been made and the only thing left is to do everything you can to reach your destination or achieve your goal. I have to cross that river. I have to reach that paved road. I have to continue my journey. It is not really a question of bravery or fearlessness, but rather a matter of staying focus on the objective with anything in between being irrelevant. It is not about being courageous but about sustaining that courage so that you can keep going. It is what that Red Creek Fir symbolizes – to be able to stand for a thousand years, to grow in an harsh environment and survive wars, logging and the elements.

Sisu is what you become by welcoming nature in. It is why I believe the Finnish have come to define themselves by this word, because of their intricate connection to their environment – with Arctic waters, long winters, endless nights, and piercing winds, one has little choice but to humble himself and focus on the long term goals.

… I have never had the teaching,
Never lived with ancient heroes,
Never learned the tongues of strangers,
Never claimed to know much wisdom.
Others have had language-masters,
Nature was my only teacher,
Woods and waters my instructors… 

The Kalevala, EPILOGUE

*I would like to thank NAPA, BCAA & Eric at TOTEM TOWING for turning this unfortunate event into a breezy one!

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Safe tow!

 

 

 

 

 

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Minute of Nature

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I have been working on finding a concept of short videos that would support my narrative – THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

It was during my trip to the Bedwell River that the clarity of what I needed to do came to me.

Let me explain to you … watch the video below.

This idea of sharing with you these moments and inspirational quotes or thoughts is exactly what I have been looking for. The notion of helping you disconnect and leave the modern world behind just for one minute so that your mind can wander away and connect with that part of nature where I was able to “Stop, Breathe, Listen and Relax.” This is exactly what I strive to bring to you.

Here is the first MINUTE, from Ucluelet.

These “Minutes of Nature” will be posted throughout all my social media sites but you are welcome to subscribe to the Vimeo Channel

 

Patience

Breath, Relax, Listen

Breath, Relax, Listen

It has been 15 hours since the heavy rain started. Tucked into my sleeping bag, the sound of the water droplets falling on the tent like an endless drum roll, the clarity of what has been happening these last two months just dawned on me and I just can’t help myself but start laughing. The fact that I had planned to be in Hawaii at this time, diving and kayaking with the humpback whales makes this spiritual awakening even more ludicrous. As much as I would have wanted the reality to be different, the message was clear and all around me – patience needed to be embraced. In our culture of instant gratification, the meaning of this word has almost become taboo. Still, from time to time, we are forced to confront its undeniable necessity. And once again, my time in nature was responsible for brining me perspicuity.

 In our Western society, the word patience denotes a more negative etymology, finding its root in the latin patientia, from patient– ‘suffering’.  But in Asia, the meaning takes a completely different approach and tries to bring forward the ability to wait and find peace, acceptance and dignity in the unexpected and uncontrollable. In China, the pictograph for patience is composed of two symbols – REN which illustrates the Blade of the Knife and XIN for Heart. The meaning being: “The sword blade is poised, ready to slice. Backed into this corner, we cannot move. When we don’t know which way to turn, or where to go, any movement at all can not only further muddy the water but can also bring disaster: the sword blade severs the heart and all is lost. Thus, the value of patience.” (Nonin Showiness) In Japan, the word is NINTAI which can be translated as an “obligation to take another direction”. GAMAN, “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity” is one of the teachings of Zen Buddhist. 

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A day in the tent

The plan was to leave in the morning – paddling back to Tofino. A combination of misjudgment on my behalf and the missing of an adapter to charge my batteries had left me with no more power for the camera. Being on Vargas island to photograph the wolves, my presence here now was simply leading to nothing – I would rather leave than facing the possibility of being presented with a perfect photo opportunity and having no camera to photograph with.

A wolf had appeared to me on the very first day of my arrival – his prints were on the beach, fresh from the morning. After setting up camp, the lone wolf had ventured around my tent. I am always perplexed on the timing of things. How and why we get to be at a precise place at a precise time, precisely when someone or something else happens to be there. Coincidence? Meant to be? A bit of both? In this case, I had been hiking the beach, collecting mussels for dinner when I decided to get something from the tent. Grabbing what I needed, I stood up zipping the tent flap when I noticed right in front of me the wolf coming out through the trees. He was brown and black, tall, the size of a huge dog. But his pose was not aggressive – more like an intruder trying to sneak his way in – this was not an dangerous predator imposing his rule on a newcomer. Maybe it was because he was alone without his pack – we know how humans act differently when by themselves, alone, as opposed to when they feel protected from being in a group. My guess is that the law of collective courage is no different independently if you are wolf or a human. Anyhow, when he saw me, he retreated and I knew in the back of my mind his next destination – the food cache. I silently followed the ruffles of leaves and hid behind a tree. As predicted I saw him coming around to investigate the metal box where my food was stored. Slightly moving to get a better view, I stepped on a branch and the unfortunate breaking noise scared the wolf away. I was not to see any of him for the next five days.

Now that I wanted the leave the island, the weather was not allowing me. And this is how these last two months came to be summarized into this precise moment – in a tent battered by the rain, realizing that all of this was beyond my control. Like the fog lifting and suddenly revealing the unexpected landscape, I was forced to accept the moment. There was nothing I could do but find peace in the unforeseen. Not just about the fact that I was being held captive on Vargas island, but that I had to accept that all my plans for the beginning of 2014 were totally at the opposite of what had actually happened – sheltered from what I had taken from granted, I was being reminded of the fragility of what I had and the price that I had to pay to keep it.

The rain and wind came to pass and the next day, a heavy fog took over and assumed the role of deciding on my captivity. I was not be allowed departure. Only the next day did a window present itself. With a strong northerly wind, my original idea to circumnavigate the island had to be put aside. Pushing with all my might I departed from the beach, turned the point, beating the wind and finding myself in a favorable position, riding the tide and wind, only having to deal with the exposed Pacific.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me. What I do know, is that from sitting into my kayak riding a wave, a river, or the ocean swell, I have control on how to react to the unexpected. I can not predict or even anticipate the unforeseen but  I can be ready to adapt to whatever is thrown my way and have trust in my capacity to handle the flow. The key is to patiently wait, breath, relax and know when to move.

“Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Nature, Life & Technology

“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.”  Mark Kennedy 

My work is about nature and our intricate connection to it, so why am I here in Munich attending for the second year DLD (Digital Lifestyle Design), a conference that focuses on promoting the benefits of living in a world of data and technology? As much as I would prefer being in the wilderness, by a creek, camera in hand and quietly observing a bear passing by, attending these kind of events is also important. One cannot truly understand the world we live in without seeing where it is going. One cannot understand the challenges we face in our attempt of finding mindfulness without knowing what those challenges are and why they are so enticing. Having a deeper connection to nature and life sounds wonderful but in reality,  things are little bit more complicated. Every one at this conference is trying to make the world a better place. The sense of creativity and ingenuity fueling all these amazing people is breathtaking and commendable. But as much as we love our computers and smart phones, we need to remember that there is more to life than data and technology.

Last year, in my post Concept vs Reality, a Cautionary Tale, I wrote about my worries of a world disconnected physically from reality, entrenched in a culture of concepts.

“From behind our television and our computers, it has become too easy to conceptualize the world, life, ourselves, our issues and our challenges… The beauty of our lives – of Life – does not find its root in numbers, codes and algorithms. Following a recipe to the letter doesn’t mean it will create the perfect dish. It is the human touch that brings the real value.”

In Our Salvation in God Technologius, my concerns were more about our faith in believing that technology would bring salvation, that we were now seeing humans has flawed and replaceable and that we seek spiritual and religious meaningfulness through our iPhones and other devices.

“…We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip… 

… this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come, that all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex… 

… Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.” 

At DLD this year, I was really happy to see three speakers who were there precisely to talk about the same issues that I have been writing about.

Evgeny Morozov a writer and researcher of Belarusian origin who studies political and social implications of technology, talked about Solutionism and our tendency to expect too much from technology.

Arianna Huffington, who has been busy promoting a new way to defining success (Third Metric) and Paulo Coelho, who wrote the famous book The Alchemist, talked about mindfulness and being able to disconnect.

None of us are promoting the idea that technology is bad or that data is irrelevant. Instead we all want to have an honest and truthful dialogue, a discussion that delves deeper into the realities and consequences from giving our lives away to technology. In other words, we just want to find a certain balance and make decisions that honor our humanity instead of destroying and erasing it. As Oubai Elkerdi puts it so well in his article Rethinking the relationship between culture and technology: “The truth is: the current state of technology is both unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. In many ways it robs us of our humanity much more than it enhances it.”

Life is not about choosing the only things that bring you satisfaction and gratify you. Life is about discovery. It is about realizing that the things we cherish the most are the ones that can’t be quantify. Perfection is boring and beauty lies in the subtle, in the imperfect and in places we try so hard to avoid today. The idea that we are entering a world where people will prefer a relationship with an operating system or a software is deeply troubling. Movies like HER and games like LOVEPLUS are no more science fiction. They are reality! And they bring with them the concept that relationships between humans is too hard, hurtful and complicated. Instead machines will bring us only pleasure, support and love.

“Manaka is the only — could I say person? … She’s the only person that actually supports me in bad times,” says Josh Martinez, a 19-year-old engineering student in Mexico City. He plays LovePlus at least once a day for 20 minutes and considers Manaka his girlfriend of 18 months. “When I feel down or I have a bad day, I always come home and turn on the game and play with Manaka,” Martinez says. “I know she always has something to make me feel better.”

The time I spend in nature teaches me about what is important in life. Through my stories like TIME, DREAMS, DISRUPTION, WAIT &  STRIPPED  I try to communicate and illustrate how the POWER OF NATURE RESTORES THE HUMAN SPIRIT – how through a better understanding of life and what nature is, one can find mindfulness. The goal is not to strip away the hardships of life but rather finding peace in the process.

As our lives become more dependent and intertwined with technology, we have to make a conscious effort not to loose sight on what is it that makes us humans. There is more to life than technology and data. Like any species, we are not flawed. We are nature and we are in constant evolution. We are a species that has mastered adaptation. We rise and hope even in the worst of moments. We create, sing, paint and write. We love and sympathize. We are complex entities that result from our upbringing and ancestry. What we are not, is just a series of zeros and ones.

“…You may think that I am the future. But you’re wrong. You are. If I had a wish, I wish to be human. To know how it feels to feel, to hope, to despair, to wonder, to love. I can achieve immortality by not wearing out. You can achieve immortality simply by doing one great thing…”

“… thank you for teaching us that falling only makes stronger…”

The Mighty Buffalo

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior

The massive animal was only a few yards away; his height doubled any of the bushes around. If I was to stand beside him, the top of his hump would still be a foot above my head. I was sitting on the ground and my eyes were to the level of his. He carried on one his horns a branch that he had snatched away just a few minutes earlier after scratching his furry head onto the trunk of a sagebrush. This improvised crown gave him a sense of notoriety and aristocracy that perhaps was due for official recognition. This herbivore had indeed once been the king of this land. It was only proper formality for me to bow in front of a surviving royal.

A little less than an hour ago, he had come from over the hill when he had seen me sitting on the grass, right in his path. Over the next sixty minutes he would stare at me for a while, trying to determine the level of threat I was representing; he then pretended eating, walking forward a bit, looking up, staring, and starting the ritual again. As he slowly passed by me, his gaze locked into mine. Obvious by its size, one would only truly realize the scale of its two-ton weight every time he lifted up one of its hooves to reveal a deep ravine print in the sand.

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The Unsung King

As often as it is the case with all my travels, my presence on the island had more to do with fate than anything else. Earlier in the year, while visiting a dear friend in Logan Utah, and looking for a nearby place to hike, she had suggested that we visit Antelope Island State Park — a wonderful 28,800 acres island located just outside Salt Lake City — and home to one of the largest wild herds of buffalos in North America. I remember standing on the top of Sentry Peak looking over Salt Lake and telling myself that I ought to come back soon and spend more time. The place had so much beauty and was filled with culture and history; it felt as if this land was connected to something ancestral, perhaps it was the presence of some of oldest rocks in the United States, or the Fielding Garr Ranch with the oldest (Anglo) building in Utah, still on its original foundation, or the free roaming buffalos, but something was calling me.

After my kayaking expedition in Alaska, I was looking for one last project to end the year with; something that would be close to home and would offer me the possibility of doing what I cherish the most: photograph big wildlife (See Totems). It was at that moment that another friend gifted me with the book “A Buffalo in the House: The True Story of a Man, an Animal, and the American West” by R. D. Rosen. The timing was perfect and it became quite obvious what I needed to do; to go back to Antelope Island.

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Top of Sentry, looking over Salt Lake

It is believed that the first Bison bison came from Asia over the Bering Land Bridge about 500,000 years ago. Before the arrival of the Europeans, in 1492, it is estimated that their numbers were somewhere between 40 and 60 million. Unfortunately, the conquering of the Native Americans and of the West, led to one of the greatest animal slaughters in human history. By 1890, only 750 bison were left — the equivalent of killing roughly 360 buffalos every day for 400 years. 1872, ‘73 and ‘74, are known to be the bloodiest years in the recorded slaughter of the bison. More than 4,500,000 of them were killed during these three years alone, which averages to about 4,110 every day.

The buffalos were one of the most important pillars of the Native American culture.

“The buffalo gave us everything we needed. Without it we were nothing. Our tipis were made of his skin. His hide was our bed, our blanket, our winter coat. It was our drum, throbbing through the night, alive, holy. Out of his skin we made our water bags. His flesh strengthened us, became flesh of our flesh. Not the smallest part of it was wasted. His stomach, a red-hot stone dropped into it, became our soup kettle. His horns were our spoons, the bones our knives, our women’s awls and needles. Out of his sinews we made our bowstrings and thread. His ribs were fashioned into sleds for our children, his hoofs became rattles. His mighty skull, with the pipe leaning against it, was our sacred altar. The name of the greatest of all Sioux was Tatanka Iyotake–Sitting Bull.” John Fire Lame Deer

This intricate connection made them a prime target – “Kill the buffalo and you kill the Indians” General Philip H. Sheridan said in 1866 when he took command of U.S. forces in the West, proposing to bring peace to the plains by exterminating the herds of buffalo that support the Indians’ way of life.

Conservation efforts and the slow coming back of the American Bison in the United States of America and Canada might bring hope for the animal’s future but the truth remains, the survival struggle of the bison is far from over. The recent culling at Yellowstone (NY Times 2008NY Times 2011) and the debate around brucellosis demonstrate how for many, the animal is still a culprit that needs to be exterminated. For ranchers, they are simply a pest that eats away precious resources which should be utilized only for their cattle. (See Buffalo War on PBS)

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A visitor

I spent more than three weeks on Antelope Island. On my first evening, four bison came running down the hill and galloped just a few feet away from my tent. I was by the picnic table preparing dinner with my head lamp turned on when I heard a loud noise and looked up — four pairs of eyes glistering in the dark. One dawn at 4am, I heard one passing within reach from my tent. Its humongous shadow casted against the fabric wall, as a result of the full moon that night. I could hear and feel his breath as if he was breathing over my neck. Another day, while I sat in the grass field, a small herd of around 25 cows and calves bison came upon me. As they got closer and closer, I chose not to move and started talking to them. I strongly believe that the voice carries energy that can calm, stress or anger. The herd came around and formed a line behind me. I slowly turned around, always sitting, and always talking. They were, of course, nervous, breathing fast with their eyes wide open and alert, but none were showing aggressive behavior. A few minutes had passed when a late arrival showed up and decided to change the mood. Whether he was showing off or not was not my concern. Its tail was up, his hoof was pounding the ground and his grunt was aimed at me. Keeping my calm, I slowly turned to face him. Raising my finger at him, much like a parent would do to reprimand a child, I changed the tone of my voice and with much fierceness told him: “You! Over there, shut it!” To my relief, he lost his stand, stopped his grunting and joined the others… behind the group.

Interestingly enough, my greatest surprise during my stay was to realize how they were all so different from one another. Before starting to photograph them, I thought they all look quite alike. But spending every day with them and looking at the photos taken, their differences became obvious. There personalities contrasted greatly. There horns differ. Some had triangular heads, others were rectangular. Many carried what appeared to be a puffy “toupee”. Some heads were black and some were brown.

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All quite different!

I went there to meet and discover an old soul, and I did. According to the Natives and in the belief that animals carry messages, the buffalo is about holding your prayers resolute and firm; giving thanks continually that your prayers have already been answered in the most abundant way possible. They say that buffalo medicine has a sacred connection with the Earth (Great Spirit) because they continue to aid, assist and provide God’s children on earth.

I live in a world where I will never be able to experience the abundance of wilderness that existed centuries ago. I can only close my eyes and imagine what it was like when they ruled the plains. Those ones who accepted me there gave me much to ponder on; for a species that almost disappeared, they are still around to tell their story, a story of hope and togetherness. Yes we brought them down, but we also brought them back up, and in the process bringing ourselves up. And that gives me hope for the future, for our future. We might, and are heading towards an existential crisis as a species, but I know we will come out stronger and wiser. That is what the buffalo told me.

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An old soul

 

The Legend of the Great Flood

“I have heard it told on the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and the Seminole camps in the Florida Everglades, I have heard it from the Eskimos north of the Arctic Circle and the Indians south of the equator. The legend of the flood is the most universal of all legends. It is told in Asia, Africa, and Europe, in North America and the South Pacific.”

Professor Hap Gilliland of Eastern Montana College was the first to record this legend of the great flood. This is one of the fifteen legends of the flood that he himself recorded in various parts of the world.

He was an old Indian. His face was weather beaten, but his eyes were still bright. I never knew what tribe he was from, though I could guess. Yet others from the tribe whom I talked to later had never heard his story. 

We had been talking of the visions of the young men. He sat for a long time, looking out across the Yellowstone Valley through the pouring rain, before he spoke. “They are beginning to come back,” he said. 

“Who is coming back?” I asked.

“The animals,” he said. “It has happened before.” 

“Tell me about it.’

He thought for a long while before he lifted his hands and his eyes. “The Great Spirit smiled on this land when he made it. There were mountains and plains, forests and grasslands. There were animals of many kinds–and men.” 

The old man’s hands moved smoothly, telling the story more clearly than his voice.

The Great Spirit told the people, “These animals are your brothers. Share the land with them. They will give you food and clothing. Live with them and protect them.

“Protect especially the buffalo, for the buffalo will give you food and shelter. The hide of the buffalo will keep you from the cold, from the heat, and from the rain. As long as you have the buffalo, you will never need to suffer.”

For many winters the people lived at peace with the animals and with the land. When they killed a buffalo, they thanked the Great Spirit, and they used every part of the buffalo. It took care of every need. 

Then other people came. They did not think of the animals as brothers. They killed, even when they did not need food. They burned and cut the forests, and the animals died. They shot the buffalo and called it sport. They killed the fish in the streams.

When the Great Spirit looked down, he was sad. He let the smoke of the fires lie in the valleys. The people coughed and choked. But still they burned and they killed.

So the Great Spirit sent rains to put out the fires and to destroy the people.

The rains feil, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded valleys to the higher land.Spotted Bear, the medicine man, gathered together his people. He said to them, “The Great Spirit has told us that as long as we have the buffalo we will be safe from heat and cold and rain. But there are no longer any buffalo. Unless we can find buffalo and live at peace with nature, we will all die.”

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded plains to the hills.

The young men went out and hunted for the buffalo. As they went they put out the fires. They made friends with the animals once more. They cleaned out the streams.

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded hills to the mountains.Two young men came to Spotted Bear. “We have found the buffalo,” they said. 

“There was a cow, a calf, and a great white bull. The cow and the calf climbed up to the safety of the mountains. They should be back when the rain stops. But the bank gave way, and the bull was swept away by the floodwaters. We followed and got him to shore, but he had drowned. We have brought you his hide.”

They unfolded a huge white buffalo skin. 

Spotted Bear took the white buffalo hide. “Many people have been drowned,” he said. “Our food has been carried away. But our young people are no longer destroying the world that was created for them. They have found the white buffalo. It will save those who are left.” 

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded mountains to the highest peaks.

Spotted Bear spread the white buffalo skin on the ground. He and the other medicine men scraped it and stretched it, and scraped it and stretched it. 

Still the rains fell. Like all rawhide, the buffalo skin stretched when it was wet. Spotted Bear stretched it out over the village. All the people who were left crowded under it.

As the rains fell, the medicine men stretched the buffalo skin across the mountains. Each day they stretched it farther. 

Then Spotted Bear tied one corner to the top of the Big Horn Mountains. That side, he fastened to the Pryors. The next corner he tied to the Bear Tooth Mountains. Crossing the Yellowstone Valley, he tied one corner to the Crazy Mountains, and the other to Signal Butte in the Bull Mountains. 

The whole Yellowstone Valley was covered by the white buffalo skin. Though the rains still fell above, it did not fall in the Yellowstone Valley. 

The waters sank away. Animals from the outside moved into the valley, under the white buffalo skin. The people shared the valley with them. 

Still the rains fell above the buffalo skin. The skin stretched and began to sag.

Spotted Bear stood on the Bridger Mountains and raised the west end of the buffalo skin to catch the West Wind. The West Wind rushed in and was caught under the buffalo skin. The wind lifted the skin until it formed a great dome over the valley.

The Great Spirit saw that the people were living at peace with the earth. The rains stopped, and the sun shone. As the sun shone on the white buffalo skin, it gleamed with colours of red and yellow and blue. 

As the sun shone on the rawhide, it began to shrink. The ends of the dome shrank away until all that was left was one great arch across the valley. 

The old man’s voice faded away; but his hands said “Look,” and his arms moved toward the valley.

The rain had stopped and a rainbow arched across the Yellowstone Valley. A buffalo calf and its mother grazed beneath it.

Big Sur, the Mighty Buffalo & Holiday Wishes!

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WINTER NEWSLETTER

2013 is almost over and three months have already passed since the last newsletter. We are all about to enter the holidays to celebrate and spend time with the ones we cherished and care for. Before I give you my wishes, lets take a minute and go over the latest and what you can expect for 2014.

NEW WEBSITE

I am proud to announce that The Wild Image Project is starting 2014 in style with a brand new website! Created by photographer and good friend Flemming Bo Jensen and his partner Charlene Winfred of Coffee and Magic, the website does a wonderful job at capturing the essence of my work. The navigation is easy and intuitive and social media has been incorporated to support the narrative. Don’t be shy and click!

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MIGHTY BUFFALO

I recently had the amazing opportunity of spending three weeks at the Antelope Island State Park, located in Utah, just outside Salt Lake City. The park is known for the American Bison which was introduced to the island back in 1893. What started with 14 individuals is now, today, more than 500, one of the biggest free roaming buffalo populations in North America.

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This legendary animal was sacred to the Native Americans. For them, the bison was a symbol of life and abundance. In many myths, the bisons gave themselves up willingly as a food source for humans. In others their spirits brought sacred knowledge about medicine or peace pipes to humankind. In many cautionary tales, buffalo hunts were unsuccessful due to the hunters’ lack of respect to the buffalo. My goal was to capture the “Buffalo Spirit“. You can see the resulting photography here.

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DISRUPTION

Why do we live in a culture that doesn’t embrace disruption? Since everything that we love and appreciate is rooted in it. After a stormy day and an unforgettable encounter, I reflect on the topic, wondering if we are not stripping our lives from what is precisely making them exciting.

Read my latest story, “DISRUPTION, THE NATURE OF LIFE

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STRIPPED

“…Sitting on that log, with my empty cup of tea, nothing feels out of place. I don’t feel out of place. The humility brought by the simplicity I find myself surrounded by is relaxing, refreshing and gives me hope. Real and honest is what nature is to me. It is a constant reminder of the true essence of what life is about. It is my source of inspiration, my elixir for meditation and my most profound teacher.” 

STRIPPED is a story about letting go and being in the moment as we juggle with our modern lifestyle, expectations and work duties.

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ROZ SAVAGE INTERVIEW

Roz is to ocean exploration what Kelly Slater is to surf. Not only has she paddled across every single ocean on the planet, but she decided to “start” her explorer career at an age when usually everyone else chooses to forgo their dreams and accept their given fate. Over the years, Roz Savage and I have become good friends and every time our complicated lives manage to cross each other, we always cherish long philosophical conversations. Emailing me from London, she invited me for another conversation and asked if I wanted to be on her next “Adventure Podcast”. After some logistics and scheduling, we found ourselves a couple of days later connected over Skype. Here is the interview. Be ready for some philosophical talk about exploration, conservation and photography.

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MARIN MAGAZINE

TOTEMS is a photo feature that was published in the Marin Magazine issue of October.  I was asked to write about my creative process and what was I pursuing while photographing nature. Read more here.

“… this collection is my attempt to present these animals with respect and honor. My goal is not to beautify or humanize them but rather to recognize their respective success of survival in relation to a humbling way of looking at the world that I fear is on the verge of disappearing.”

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OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER MAGAZINE

“Behind the shot” is a column in the magazine Outdoor Photographer that goes behind the scene of some spectacular photograph, explaining how the image came to be. One of my bison photographs was recently featured. Read more here.

“…until he walked just about 20 feet from where I was sitting. He stopped by a bush right behind where he proceeded to scratch his furry head. I sat there mesmerized by its presence and the depth of his look, trying to understand what was the threat that so many saw in this creature. After taking my photos, I thanked him for his time and cooperation and slowly departed…”

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LIFE’S STORIES FROM MEMORY

Sandisk recently asked to be be part of their ‘s campaign “Life Stories from Memory“. Their products are really important for my work. I travel light, by myself, and am gone for long periods of time – so everything I have in my bag must be extremely reliable – if not bulletproof! The days have drastically changed since film and it is still hard to remember a time when your biggest investment and hassle was to carry, protect and process long rolls of fragile films. Nowadays, with my SanDisk Extreme Pro I can spend all my energy on pushing my photography to new places. My fingers will be frozen, my feet will be burning, the sun will scorch or the wind will roar, yet I know I don’t have to worry one second about where my work is being stored.More stories are coming up soon, but for now, the first one is about my last trip in Utah – SEEING EYE TO EYE WITH A BUFFALO. Next will be LAVA and TOTEMS

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“… My goal was to create an abstract and artistic representation of the lava’s intensity. Compared to the free flow of lava, active and fast, these clefts are the result of a constant but slow force. One fracture at a time, earth is moved forward to form new landscapes, erasing old ones behind. Invisible at day, their presence and intensity is only revealed at night, cracking the dark world open, light a lightning splitting the sky in pieces.” Story coming soon

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“…When I photograph animals, I don’t hide from them, I want them to see me. I want them to “give me the shot”, instead of me “taking the shot”. I want their eyes to look into mine. I want them to tell me who they are. I want that non-verbal ancestral communication, that place where no words are needed and only the sense of commonality is felt. It is not an attempt beautify or humanize the animals but rather to recognize their respective success of survival in relation to our own mortality.”  Story coming soon

2014

Next year is looking to be incredible! There are many expeditions on the table – HAWAII, KODIAK ISLAND, GRAND TETONS, YELLOWSTONE and the CHANNEL ISLANDS. Everything will be confirmed in January – stay tuned.
Also in the works are a photography SHOW in San Francisco, a coffee table BOOK with a poetry writer, a photo PROJECT on the Farralon Islands and a photo portrait SERIES at an animal refuge in Florida.

So exciting!!

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HOLIDAY WISHES

“In this century we have made remarkable material progress, but basically we are the same as we were thousands of years ago. Our spiritual needs are still very great.”  Dalai Lama

Let us all remember that despite the attraction of technology and the temptation of simplifying the depth of our relationships to those of robots, we must never forget the magic of nature and the beings that we are. We are more than algorithms and statistics. Lets not loose faith in our capacity for spiritual greatness and move on into the future with the desire of finding inner peace and content. I will see you again in 2014!

HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY, A MERRY CHRISTMAS & A WONDERFUL HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

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Disruption, the Nature of Life

“The end is the beginning of all things, suppressed and hidden, awaiting to be released through the rhythm of pain and pleasure.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

The wind has been blowing steady at 25mph all morning. The mountains around, which on any other normal day can be seen reaching out to the sky are cut in half by a dull blanket of featureless clouds. My tent anchored in solidly is bending every time a gust comes rushing by. The magpies and crows are flying low while the gulls seem to truly enjoy this treacherous air. The Great Salt Lake, normally with its water flat and still like a mirror, is covered with foot high waves. Interestingly enough though, as if purposely playing tricks for a seemingly obvious weather forecast, the Rabbitbrushes and Sage Brushes are barely moving – their coarse branches specially adapted for this harsh, windy and dry environment. The warmth and quietness of yesterday was now replaced by a cold and noisy today.

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The little fortress of rocks built around my stove didn’t do much in stopping the fluidity of the wind and I was left with little choice but to improvise if I wanted to have my morning tea and oatmeal. I popped the trunk of the car open, moved the equipment around and set the kitchen there – now protected in this beacon of modern transportation.

In some bizarre fashion, I love these moments when you are reminded that the beautiful and precious you had is never to be taken for granted. Disruption is the foundation of happiness and it is the way the world and nature works. The key is to accept the unexpected and understand that the “ups” are only appreciated because they are relative to the “downs”. Life would be boring if it was constantly positive, independently how amazing it is. Which reminds me of John Maeda’s book “Simplicity”, where he defends that it is the complex moments in life we love, not the simple ones.

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Everything that we cherish is rooted in disruption. Think about it for a second. The spices in my food, the color in my room, the decorations in a christmas tree – they all disrupt an initial simple state and make it more exciting. It is the clouds in an monotonous sky that make a sunset or sunrise truly amazing. A straight road might bring a little speed, but the real pleasures of driving come with the curves and turns. Point taken, these are small on the disruptive scale, but the way of dealing with them is no different then with the more challenging events. The secret is to realize that disruptions are not meant to be avoided but rather to be explored and appreciated. They expend one’s mind, bring new experiences and make you appreciate the things and people you care for. Too much or too little disruption is only a question of perspective.

“I like learning stuff. The more information you can get about a person or a subject, the more you can pour into a potential project. I made a decision to do different things. I want to do things that have a better chance of being thought of as original. I do everything I can to disrupt my comfort zone.” Brian Grazer, film producer

When our ancestors moved around, nomadic not by choice but by necessity, life was a constant adaption to endless disruptions. The world around them changed, seasons came and go, and with it the understanding of living in a dynamic world. As we became sedentary, no longer adapting ourselves to our environment instead transforming it to our needs, our view of the world changed to a more static one. We started to separate ourselves from nature and what had been so far a world we “lived in” became a world we needed to escape, conquer and control.

Today, with technology, more estranged from nature and the realities of life than ever before, disruptions are the enemy, members of the axis of evil, threatening our sanitized culture. Instead of embracing them and their power of discovery, we do everything to eliminate them. Instead of inspiring and teaching people to find the positive in situations that are mostly unwanted, we propagate the message that life is unfair and that there must be someone to blame.

We have heard many times of people who have said that cancer, how unfortunate and destructive it is, was the best thing that had happened to them. How many times did we fear the end of a relationship only to admit later of its misery and how much life was better since. How do you think we have evolved and survived? Adaptation and disruption go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. We shouldn’t dismiss the gravity of the changes that are upon us today as our impact is threatening our own existence, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that this is the end. The best is always to come, cause I refuse to think that it should be used in the past term.

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The day was coming an end and even as I entered the tent to discover the interior and sleeping bag covered in dust, I smiled, remembering how the day had turned out despite the stormy weather. The bland day light and dusty air wasn’t really interesting to photograph so instead I hung out with the Park Manager as he took me around the island – beyond the gates, and told me about the fascinating history of this place. But the surprise of the day was when I went into town for lunch. I knew that dinner would be wet and windy so I wanted to give myself at least a “proper” meal. It was on my way out that I noticed a coyote walking by the water. For the last two weeks I had found it impossible to approach them – they were always on the move and would quickly disappear the minute they would see me. I got out of the car and walked down to the water’s edge, hoping the coyote would keep his direction and pass by me. Perhaps it was because of the strong wind, who knows, but even though he noticed my presence really early he kept trotting his course and finally came within 10 feet of where I was sitting. It was the only time during my stay on the island that I was able to photograph a coyote the way I wanted. Hadn’t been for the wind and rain, this encounter wouldn’t have never happened. Had the day been sunny and beautiful, this photograph would have never been created.

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”  Zhuangzi

Stripped

It happens every time, and independently if I want it or not, I find myself pulled into it. Parked at the Big Sur Station, I am getting my equipment ready. The plan is to hike to Syke Camp, spend a couple of nights there then one night on the beach and finally hike a 3,000 feet peak nearby. I should be excited, thrilled and relaxed, but instead I am anxious and worried. I try to focus on making sure that I don’t forget anything – I would really hate finding out that I have forgotten a lens or battery for the camera after a 5-hour hike and having to return. Despite all my previous stories written, despite all the photos that I have taken, despite the fact that deep down I know that it always works out, I can’t stop but stress about the uncertainty on if I will be able to find something to write about or find a nice landscape to photograph. Will I be inspired? If so, about what? Will the light be good? Will I see animals? Will the weather cooperate? And what if I don’t have anything to show by the end of the week? My last story, TIME, was written many months ago in Hawaii. I have since been twice in Alaska, kayaking and hiking a glacier, and even though both were incredible expeditions, I failed to come back with new words. Knowing the reasons why the page has remained blank doesn’t help either.

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Pine Ridge Trail

The creative process is one of the hardest things to find. And even more challenging is to protect that process as the world around you changes. Inspiration is complicated and some are more famous for their bizarre rituals then for their own art.

I love being on expedition – having a set target, a destination to reach, a goal, but it is not what I live and work for. The content that I produce during these adventures is more descriptive – narrating the days, the progression, the ups and downs, the struggles encountered and the magical moments witnessed. It is premeditated. Inspiration is not really the most important aspect, but rather your ability to deliver the story, to capture the local flavors.

What I long for as an artist is much different. It is when I have the feeling, the sensation that the inspiration has come to me rather than me seeking it. It is that sense of being connected to something else, something bigger. As alone as one can be when creating, knowing that you are only a channel through which your environment expresses itself brings a total different perspective – the loneliness disappears and a deep fulfilling connectedness lives – bringing along a sense of purpose.

I am 2 hours into the hike and my mind is still stuck in that parking lot. I am walking the trail much like I would walk the sidewalks of New York – focused on the destination and shutting myself to everything else in between – a self defense mechanism we have had to developed to protect ourselves from the constant and relentless assault on our senses from our modern lifestyle. Instead of enjoying the moment, I feel heavy and distracted. Layers of anxiety rooting from our civilized, moral and intellectual culture weighing on me. My ears are open but don’t hear anything. My eyes are open but can’t see anything. My body is tensed, preoccupied with every uphill steps I have to make. The Ventana Wilderness is full of wonders with majestic Redwoods and beautiful Pacific Madrones, yet, my head looks down – I am a man walking his purgatory! After 5 hours, I arrive at the destination tired but wired. Where are the hot springs, where to camp? Quick lets get to work – what can I photograph? I can’t rest. This is work and I must produce!

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Syke Camp

It is 6pm – the tent is up, the backpack emptied, the hot springs have been located and already “enjoyed”. The kettle is on the stove. I am camping on this tiny “island” in the middle of the Big Sur River, a magical set up, yet I am totally oblivious to my surroundings. I am pacing frantically. The steam shoots out from the kettle and I am slow to realize the water is ready. So much for someone who is supposed to be “one” with nature – pathetic!

I take my cup of mate tea and sit on a log that rests slightly above the river, bridging my campsite to the north shore. My feet hang with my toes dipping in the frigid running water. I take a sip. Then I take a deep breath. Another sip – another breath. Finally, the moment I have been unconsciously waiting for is starting to manifest itself.

Like the afternoon wind pushing away the morning fog, with every new sip and every new breath, my comatose state starts fading. Free of their societal constraints, my senses awaken from their lethargy. My back arches up. My chest opens up. My ears start tingling to the sound of water swirling around the rocks. My eyes start seeing for the first time an American Dipper just a few feet away, diving for a few second then reappearing with a nymph in its beak. My lungs are beginning to feel lighter. My mind is clear. My heartbeat has slowed down, yet I remain extremely sharp. By the time my tea is finished, everything feels new and fresh – alive. In reality though, it is me who has changed, it is me who is alive now. I was closed and sequestered, now I am freed and attuned. I have finally found the state of mind I came here for. And with it came my inspiration. Thought by thought, sentence by sentence, words have come back. Stripped from the confinement of technology and cultural expectations, I was finally at peace with simply one thing – being.

“Nature is pleased with simplicity.” — Isaac Newton

“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” — Oscar Wilde

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Sunset from 3,000ft

As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing – real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect – evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.

Independently if we believe and speak about it as a separate entity, in reality we are no different than nature. Quite the opposite, we are nature, and we are intricately part of it. We are nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of evolution. Yet we have come to believe that everything revolves around us – that everything is about US. Our view of the world is no different then when we thought that the earth was the center of the galaxy. Instead now we see ourselves as the center of Life, of the Universe.

In our quest to conquer – not only territorially, but intellectually and morally, we have lost our connection to the world around us, to the planet and to life. We also have lost our ability to look at our environment (the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates) and learn from it. We no longer look at nature and use it to understand life – instead we see nature and life as flawed systems that need to be corrected and reengineered under our own perception of what it should be. We see ourselves as great saviors with god powers!

Our myopia and shortsightedness have made us inefficient and incapable of looking at the bigger picture. We focus on details, obsessing about single events, while loosing perspective of everything else around. Our expertise at extracting data from pretty much anything – important or not, trivial or useless, has transformed our world into an intellectual dump. Buried under so much information and incapable of managing it, we look at technology as our only hope. Completely lost and feeling powerless, we blindly put our salvation into machines and their ability to “process” – because the only way we can make sense of anything is through numbers, equations, statistics and graphs. Common sense is no longer valued unless it can be measured and quantified.

Sitting on that log, with my empty cup of tea, nothing feels out of place. I don’t feel out of place. The humility brought by the simplicity I find myself surrounded by is relaxing, refreshing and gives me hope. Real and honest is what nature is to me. It is a constant reminder of the true essence of what life is about. It is my source of inspiration, my elixir for meditation and my most profound teacher.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Sunset from the beach

Sunset from the beach

Alaska’s Wilderness, Dolphins, Volcano & much more

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FALL NEWSLETTER

I am continually asked to share what I’m working on; my expeditions, my photography and my appearances, so with that in mind I’m introducing the first edition of the Quarterly Wild Image Project Newsletter. The Newsletter is designed to keep you up-to-date on not only where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, but also to let you know about upcoming expeditions, photographic engagements and appearances.

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WELCOME

What a great year it has been so far! It’s now the end of summer and fall is just around the corner. What follows is a snapshot, literally and figuratively speaking, of my work to date.

EXPRESS NATIONALS 27

I was invited to photograph the 2013 Express 27 Nationals, held this year in the San Francisco Bay and hosted by the Richmond Yacht Club. If you’re not familiar with the Express 27, it an ultra-light displacement sloop designed by Carl Schumacher. It was built by Terry Alsberg at Alsberg Brothers Boatworks in Santa Cruz, California from 1981 to 1988.

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My intent with this assignment was to capture the excitement and intensity of the race and the competitive spirit of the racers. The green waters of the bay and the urban background were a challenge for the artistic vision I had so I desaturated the photos, keeping only the reds, yellows and blues. While increasing the highlights and whites allowed me bring focus on the sails and boats.

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Want to see more … go here on Behance or if you are interested in purchasing prints, please contact the Studio – studio – wildimageproject.com

IN SEARCH OF AN ILL FATED LANDING

On July 18th, fellow explorer Nathaniel Stephens and I set off on a kayak expedition along the Pacific coastline of Alaska. This route had always been of interest to us for two reasons: finding the Petroglyph Rocks at Surge Bay believed to be associated with the ill-fated Bering/Chirikov Expedition landing of 1741 and scouting the route for future commercial expeditions.

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We followed the Pacific Coast of the Chichagof Island, starting from Sitka. From there we voyaged our way north to Hoonah, covering 140 miles through Alaska’s pristine waters, following the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, part of the Tongass National Forest. It is the largest national forest in the United States with most of its area part of the “perhumid rainforest zone, Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Made up primarily of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock, the land spreads over thousands of islands and is home to animals that are barely found anywhere else in North America, including a group of brown bears more closely related to polar bears than to other living brown bears. Besides being of great environmental value, the area is extremely rich in cultural history – more than 10,000 years ago, the Tlingit people settled here.

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You can watch my TV interview on KATH-TV and listen to our KTOO Public Radio interviews before and after the expedition.

Want to see more, visit the daily recap on FACEBOOK, photos on PINTEREST and INSTAGRAMvideos on VIMEO and an article in SIDETRACKED magazine.

Our expedition will also be featured in the SEA KAYAKER Nov/Dec issue.

PELE’S BLOOD

I had heard about the Hawaiian islanders spiritual belief in PELE, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes who, it is believed, lives in the Halema’uma’u crater, at the summit of Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano. Its lava continually flows reshaping the Big Island’s Kalapana southwest landscape. The islanders believe the melted rock is the blood of the Goddess and while this incredible display of earth’s power attracts thousands of tourists every year, for them it is a constant reminder of their origins and how their land came to be. So in June, I journeyed to the Big Island in hope of discovering and experiencing this sacred connection.

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My creative process is always the same; immerse myself into my surroundings, absorb its energy and let its spirit ignite and guide my work. Hiking the treacherous lava field of Puna almost every night, I came to understand and felt the sacredness of the place. TIME is result of this connection. It is a story about our perception of time in relation to what is, in simple terms, the cause responsible for this world we now try hard to protect.

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While most volcano photography focuses on free flows and wide landscapes, I wanted to create an abstract and artistic perspective of Pele’s intensity. These clefts are the result of a constant but slow force. One fracture at a time, earth is moved forward to form new landscapes, erasing the old ones. Invisible by day, their presence and intensity is only revealed at night, cracking the dark world open, like lightning splitting the sky in pieces. By taking the lava out of its environmental context, the beauty and power is revealed without any interference or distraction. You can see the resulting photography by visiting my online portfolio.

The work was featured in DAILY MAILPETAPIXELELEPHANT JOURNALEXPOSURE GUIDETREEHUGGER, & TERRA MAR PROJECT.

Daniel Fox and Pilot Whales

While in Hawaii, I took the occasion to join some friends in Kona and go free diving with dolphins, pilot whales and oceanic whitetip sharks. Take a moment to watch the 3 videos BLUE MORNINGDOLPHIN MOMENT & SUNDAY PAUSE.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I could never accomplish the work I do without the support and partnership of my sponsors. Each one of them, in their own way, enable me to reach into nature, explore our world and bring it to you visually and through the written word.

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My heartfelt thanks goes out to:
KOKATATWILDERNESS SYSTEMSDEUTERAQUALUNGMOUNTAIN KHAKISSIERRA DESIGNSSANDISKDELORMEVOLTAIC SYSTEMSDAHLGRENSPERRY TOP SIDEROPTIMUSKATADYNADVENTURE TECHNOLOGYKLEAN KANTEEN, AQUAPACSOGG-FORMLEUPOLD & GOLDEN VALLEY

AROUND THE CORNER

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EXPEDITIONS

THE SPIRIT OF KOOTZNOOWOO

On September 9th, I’ll partner up again with Nathaniel Stephens to traverse the Admiralty Island. We will start in Juneau with a crossing of the Gastineau Channel to nearby Douglas Island. We will then face the challenging crossing of Stephens Passage and its notorious rough water. Heading south through Seymour Canal our goal will be Pack Creek, a famous area with one of the highest concentrations of Brown Bears in the world. Following the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route, we will reach the eastern side of Admiralty and make our way toward the Tlingit village of Angoon, the island’s only permanent settlement. We will meet with clan elders and learn about the town’s fascinating history, including an 1882 bombardment by the US Navy after a whaling dispute.

One of our goals is to continue producing the type of educational short videos we broadcast on our last expedition. Being explorers, we have the unique opportunity to bring to the public our in-the-field discoveries. You can watch some of these videos here Sundew FlowersBear SignsLittle Brown BatsChicken of the Woods and Coralroot Orchid.

I also plan to use photography to capture the essence and spirit of the Brown Bear, revered by many and a sacred totem for countless indigenous cultures.

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PHOTOGRAPHY

FALL ON CHANNEL ISLANDS

In October, I plan to set up camp on the Island of Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands, off the California Coast and spend 3 to 4 weeks exploring the archipelago. Kayaking and hiking my way around, my goal will be to connect with the island’s rich cultural past and precious ecosystem. And just like the people of the Churmash Indian tribe did thousands of years ago, I will paddle my way from the mainland to the Channel Islands.

With the help of National Park Service and Nature Conservancy, I will look into what makes these islands so important for Conservation and so adored by the American public. Partly educative and partly artistic, the content created for this trip will for sure not disappoint!

SEASONS AT THE FARALLONES

In partnership with the NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, I am working a photography/book/exhibition project titled “Seasons at the Farallones”. Although close to mainland, the islands have rarely been photographed – quite exceptional for such a unique environment and its proximity.

The Farallons are a group of islands off the coast of San Francisco, California, just 30 miles (48 km) outside the Golden Gate. Even thought the first European to record the islands was the English privateer Sir Francis Drake, who landed on the islands on 24 July 1579, it was the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno who first charted them in 1603 and therefore gave them their name “Farallones”, meaning “rocks out of the sea”

Besides being known for its Great White Sharks population, the islands are home to more than 250,000 seabirds, 5 species of seals and sea lions and are visited every year by several whales species, including gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and the powerful killer whale.

By staying on the islands for periods of 2 to 3 weeks in Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, the goal will be to accurately capture the distinct seasons of such treacherous and extreme environment and the wildlife it inhabits.

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APPEARANCES

JACKSON HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

Internationally recognized as the premier event of its genre, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, held from September 23 – 27, has invited me to attend and photograph their event. Similar to what I’ve previously created for the Express 27 Nationals and the 2013 Digital Life Design Conference in Munich, my goal is to capture the energy and content of this event so that it can be shared around the world.

If you happen to be there at the same time, please reach out to me so we can meet.

THE WILD IMAGE PROJECT ON FACEBOOK

The online world is in constant change and it is important to have a platform that appropriately communicates the intended message and reaches out to both current and new audiences. So to make it easier for you to follow my photography, expeditions and appearances, I’ve re-launched the Wild Image Project Facebook site. All my FACEBOOK postings and updates can now be found here. From this page, you’ll be able to easily connect with me across all my social media networks, e.g., PinterestTwitterInstagram.
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I’ll be closing down my current Facebook personal page so be sure to take a minute and visit the new page and follow me by clicking LIKE.

PURCHASING PHOTOGRAPHY or SIGNING UP FOR FUTURE EXPEDITIONS

If you are interested in purchasing Wild Image Project photography or signing up for future expeditions contact me via email at daniel – wildimageproject.com.

The spirit of Kootznoowoo, the “Fortress of the Bear”

by Nathaniel Stephens

Last month we explored Baranof and Chichagof Islands and the outer coast of southeast Alaska. Next we will complete our “ABC’s “ with a traverse of Admiralty Island.

The route starts in Juneau with a crossing of the Gastineau Channel to nearby Douglas Island. We will then face the challenging crossing of Stephens Passage and its notorious rough water. Timing will be key to use the strong tidal currents to our advantage through Oliver Inlet and into Seymour Canal.  We’ll take advantage of a railcar system to portage our boats and gear between the two inlets. Heading south through Seymour Canal our goal will be Pack Creek, a famous area for viewing brown bears.  Indeed the island has some of the highest concentrations of brown bear in the world.

The Tlingit name for Admiralty is Kootznoowoo, or “Fortress of the Bear”. In September at Pack Creek we should have ample viewing of bears feeding on spawning salmon. From there we will head for the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route. A spectacular series of bays, lakes and portage trails; the Route was built in the 1930’s by the CCC and offers the intrepid backcountry adventurer a wonderful overview of Alaskan wilderness. The currents are incredibly strong throughout, running up to 10 knots, and the portages are often long and arduous. Whitewater features known as salt chucks occur in many places at certain tidal flows. We will be rewarded for our perseverance with excellent wildlife sightings and fantastic fishing along the way, as we bisect Admiralty Island National Monument.

Once we reach the eastern side of Admiralty we will make our way toward the Tlingit village of Angoon, the island’s only permanent settlement. We will meet with clan elders and learn about the town’s fascinating history, including an 1882 bombardment by the US Navy after a whaling dispute.

Finally, we will load our kayaks on the Alaska Marine Highway for the ferry ride back to Juneau.

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Oh Ferry Ferry please take me where I want to go!

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Alaska is known for its remoteness, glaciers, mountains and wildlife. But it is its amazing Marine Highway System that makes Alaska even more enjoyable.

On my last kayak expedition, we boarded the Fairweather in Juneau and headed to Sitka. With our kayaks nicely tucked in below, we were able to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Our 4 1/2 hour journey seemed more like strolling in a zoo as humpbacks and bald eagles majestically filled the landscape.

The Alaska Marine Highway System services 33 different ports, starting with Bellingham in Washington. From there you can head north to Ketchikan and travel through the Inside Passage and carry on until Dutch Harbor all the way to the end of the Aleutians.

After 11 days of exploring the Pacific Coast of Chichagof Island, coming around the outside of Yakobi , through the Cross Sound and around Point Adolphus, our final destination was Hoonah, where the ferry LeConte was waiting for us.  Once again, our trip back to Juneau didn’t deceive us. The scenery was outstanding, especially at Point Retreat where a couple of whales breached.

Independently of your destination, whether you are traveling by car, bicycle or kayak, the Alaska Marine Highway System is your ticket to experience the 49th State of America, the Last Frontier, Alaska.

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The World is a Cruise Ship and the Cruise Ship is our World!

Being in Alaska, where cruise ships abound, it reminded of a post that I wrote while working with the Pacific Voyagers Foundation earlier this year.

We were quite shocked last’s week in regards to the events aboard the Carnival cruise ship – but not in the way you would imagine. Being sailors and ocean navigators, we are used to take care of our surroundings. In fact we have a saying that goes like this: “The island is our Vaka and the Vaka is our island”. Meaning that if you don’t take care of your boat, you are not taking care of your home, your land, your world. What happened on that particular cruise ship is a great mirror to what is happening in our society.

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When you are on a sailboat, sailing the oceans, one thing quickly becomes extremely clear. For sanity to exist, for people to enjoy their time and for sailing to go smooth, it is extremely important that everybody respect each other’s privacy and acts with civility. People help each other and communication is gold. Without teamwork, attentiveness and consideration to others, life quickly becomes toxic and unproductive.

Last year we sailed over 140,000 nautical miles circumnavigating the world on Vakas that were only powered by solar energy. We lived to the rhythm of our environment – the ocean. We respected it, appreciated it, and honored it – consequently respecting ourselves, appreciating ourselves and honoring ourselves. Of course, from time to time you have conflicts and issues that need to be address, but these challenges are always welcomed and together we deal with them, growing stronger as a team, and as individuals.

The way we sail, they way we travel, is an extension of the way we live. We only use renewable sources of energy. We fish only what we need. We don’t use the ocean for our garbage, in fact we reuse and recycle as much as possible – producing a minimum of impact. We maximize the use of space. We read books, count the stars, scan the water for possible encounters and only reach out for technological devices when necessary. We eat together and embrace each others company.

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So when we learned that in only the space of a few days hell had broken loose aboard a powerless cruise ship, we scratched our heads wondering how could this happen. But then again, it didn’t take long to understand why. As a reflection to our society, these cruises are a celebration of consumerism, totally disconnected with the environment. According to Oceana, the average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 7 tons of garbage and solid waste, about 30,000 gallons of human waste, 255,000 gallons of non-sewage gray water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, air pollutants equivalent to 12,000 automobiles, hundreds of thousands of gallons of ballast water, which contains diseases, bacteria and invasive species from foreign ports – every day! With more than 230 cruise ships operating world wide, you do the math.

Passengers leave behind a city only to find themselves into another city – a floating one. Whenever they get off the boat, is only to sit in a bus and experience other worlds, other cultures from the safety of their cushioned seat, behind a thick reinforced glass, bathed in cold air-conditioning. Their evenings are spent watching television or attending one of the multitude entertaining shows. They eat in huge restaurants, served by an underpaid staff. They stay plugged in with their tablets, computers and constant access to the internet. Days are spent lounging, gambling, shopping or swimming in the chlorine water.

This ethos of individuality and pleasure is not only unsustainable but has absolutely no resistance or resilience. It is like a castle of cards, a game of Jenga, barely holding together. The minute you take away one piece, the entire system collapses.

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The media coverage was also extremely revealing. CNN went crazy with making the event its top priority, and with all the other television stations following. Everybody cried for the poor passengers, yet nobody talked about the even-worse situation of the staff onboard the ship.

“For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck.  “Cruise from hell”: Don’t pity Carnival’s passengers! On Salon.com

If these cruises are a mirror to our society, what does it say about our system? Isn’t time to go back to our roots and reevaluate our values and what we stand for? Isn’t there a lesson to learn from the success of such endeavors like the Voyaging Societies and the quick failure of supposedly infallible behemoths? Here at Pacific Voyagers Foundation, we have made our choice – we will stand and promote a world where quality matters over quantity, where humanity is a communal celebration, where energy is never wasted and where food abounds because of the care we put into our environment. Who is up for a sail now?

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Along the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness

On July 18th, my expedition partner Nathaniel Stephens and myself will undertake an 11-day kayak expedition following the pacific coast of the Chichagof Island. Our journey will start in Juneau where we will take the ferry to Sitka. From there we will voyage our way north to Hoonah. This 140 miles journey through Alaska’s pristine waters will have us follow the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness. We will pass south of the Kruzof Island, around the Yakobi Island, through the South Iniah Passage, South of the Lemesurier Island and finally around the famous Point Adolphus.

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The West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness is part of the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States with most of its area part of the “perhumid rainforest zone, Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Made up primarily of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock, the land spreads over thousands of islands and is home to animals that are barely found anywhere else in North America, including a group of brown bears more closely related to polar bears than to other living brown bears.

Besides being of great environmental value, the area is extremely rich in cultural history – more than 10,000 years ago, the  Tlingit people settled here.

Our expedition will be tracked with the Delorme InReach which can be viewed here. We will try to post updates on Twitter, but most likely all the content – photos, videos and stories, will be published upon our return at the beginning of August.

Make sure to connect via Facebook or Twitter to receive the latest dispatches.

This trip wouldn’t be possible without the important support from

Time

Time from Daniel Fox on Vimeo.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser* Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” Replicant Roy Batty Blade Runner

Batty, in his last words, accepts that despite his physical superiority, that after his failure of finding a way to live longer, time is something that he simply can’t avoid and defeat. It is the reason why he saves Deckard. Looking down at him and seeing him struggle, holding on for his dear life, he realizes at that moment that both of them are equal – two creatures trying to survive, trying to hold on and extant beyond that finite existence that nature has given them.

I am standing in the middle of a black lava field that stretches for miles in all directions. I am told that prior to the eruption, this now barren landscape was lush with trees and filled with life. The beach at the ocean was so beautiful that it was the official island postcard, promoting this divine location – palm trees over a black sand beach. But time has scorched this once beauty – covered in molten black rock, twisted and burned by fire, trapped under a blanket of desolation. It is easy to loose hope in this No Man’s Land, a place where even the strongest of gods would feel abandoned – Hades never forgave his brothers. But all this is part of nature’s plan.

Past sunset, the sky and the horizon become one. The darkness takes over and if it wasn’t for this cloudless night with its millions of stars and gravity keeping me grounded, I wouldn’t know which way was up or which way was down. Despite the eeriness of the moment, something incredible is happening.

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According to the Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. It is believed that she lives in the Halema’uma’u crater, at the summit caldera of Kilauea, one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes. The residents of the Big Island take their belief in her quite seriously. And I understand now.

While daylight reveals a tortured landscape, at night time it is the blood of the planet that suddenly comes to be seen.  And there is nothing tortured about it. Life is what is flowing under my feet. I feel it, I feel Pele, I feel the earth, I feel its force, its intensity – it is then that I realize, this place is not about death and destruction, it is about life and creation.

This planet is a creation of time. We are in fact nothing but the result of an ongoing experiment that has been going on for millions of years. Time is nature, it is the force that drives everything. As I stand by this boulder the size of a bus, slowly cracking its way forward, I come to understand the pace and rhythm of life.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Man’s relationship with time couldn’t be more different. Nature has given us time to evolve and develop an intelligence that is unmatched on this planet. But like any good fable, with such incredible potential came an even greater burden – self awareness. As much as we think of ourselves as omnipotent, god-like and capable of outstanding feats, we are nonetheless simple mortals that cripple over time. Independently of our legacy, even the greatest of kings will be at one point forgotten and become nothing. Our existence might be relevant to us, but in the scheme of the universe, we are nothing, not even a grain of sand.

Facing our mortality and vulnerability, we see time as a disease, as a theft, as an injustice, as a destructive force and as the most valued currency we possess. Aristotle said that

“Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.” 

And Napoleon reminded us that

There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men:  time. 

Cecelia Ahern, in her book The Gift, wrote that

“Time is more precious than gold, more precious than diamonds, more precious than oil or any valuable treasures. It is time that we do not have enough of; it is time that causes the war within our hearts, and so we must spend it wisely.”

ruled by the fire

But isn’t it through time that the most beautiful things are created? It takes nine months for a mother to create life. It takes years to find that peaceful place in your heart. It takes a lifetime to realize that your most precious possessions were the simplest things you tried so hard to avoid. Time is the complexity that I taste in my wine, it is the beauty of an oxidized piece of copper. It is the essence of everything I cherish and it is my mentor as it brings me back to reality and makes me understand the universe.

I once read a story about an Elder telling a young woman of her frantic pace and need to get things done on time – “You have watches, but no time.” In this culture of speed where even the simple gesture of saying thank you is seen as a waste of time (NY Times), where anything above 140 characters is not worth reading, how will we ever understand and appreciate the beauty of life? How will we achieve wisdom if we can’t even appreciate the time it takes to become wise. Have we become spoiled and arrogant, basking in a culture of convenience and overnight deliveries? Maybe it is time to stop and look at the world around us and realize what we have been missing.

Like a petal in the wind
Flows softly by
As old lives are taken
New ones begin
A continual chain
Which lasts throughout eternity
Every life but a minute in time
But each of equal importance

Cindy Cheney

Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land.
So the little minutes, humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages of eternity.

Julia Carney

around

See more photos on Behance

A BIG thank you to LENSRENTALS, SANDISK AND JADE CHEN

* “Probably from Richard Wagner’s operatic adaption of the legend of the medieval German knight and poet Tannhäuser. Joanne Taylor, in an article discussing film noir and its epistemology, remarks on the relation between Wagner’s opera and Batty’s reference, and suggests that Batty aligns himself with Wagner’s Tannhauser, a character who has fallen from grace with men and with God but does receive redemption at the end. Both, she claims, are characters whose fate is beyond their own control.”

Alligator, Earthworm and Champagne

“… It was my understanding that I was going to participate in a dignified ritual. Here I was, in an estancia (ranch) surrounded by mountains and lakes, where cattle still roam free and horses are the main means of transportation. I wanted to respect what the cow had lived for. I wanted to be there and honor her death and the legacy she would leave behind. Instead, what I witnessed, was a brutal and perverted act of barbary. From the kill to the skinning, everything was done with disdain. I found myself sad, not for her death, but for us, humans and how, even in the most remote places imaginable, where one would expect the deepest communion with nature, how disconnected we have become …” excerpt from my story W.H. Hudson

I am a meat and fish eater and I surely don’t hide my love for it. I do not believe or prescribe that one diet fits everyone. Much has been said about the Blood Type diet, and I do side with this belief. My body simply doesn’t work well and can’t process milk and grain product. But give it a Paleo diet and it thrives. I take good care of choosing where my meat comes from and refuse to eat mass processed food, whether they are veggies or anything else. My bottom line is that if I don’t understand the ingredients, then I my body won’t either.

I do not believe that being vegetarian or vegan is THE solution for our food problem. Independently of the food we eat, it is the scale of consumerism that is simply unsustainable. Jungles in South America are being cut not for cattle but for soy. Corn and soy are over 90% GMO. And when Oprah Winfrey proclaimed the benefits of the Acai berry on her show, she sent the entire small local sustainable harvest into an unbalanced one that didn’t know how to answer the sudden demand.

As I have written in my story W.H. Hudson, it is easy to judge one’s diet when grocery shopping from decadent temples of food consumerism where everything is available at any time of the year. Nature has no place in these stores and its seasonal rhythm is seen with annoyance. So it makes sense to fly apples from New Zealand during winter so that our food habits don’t get interrupted and critic anyone who goes fishing or hunting at the source.

Last weekend, I was in New York for the Explorers Club annual gathering, hosted like every previous year, at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel, on Park avenue. The Club has had a long tradition of serving exotic dishes prior to its gala dinner. This year was no different – as one can read from the NY Times article in the Diner’s Journal. On the menu were muskrat, beaver, alligator, ostrich, boar, goat, earthworm, cockroaches and more. The display didn’t go well at all with many of my fellow explorers / environmentalists. I don’t really tend to side with the “Veggie People”, but in this case I do – simply not for the same reasons as theirs. Before I explain myself, let me point to the irony of the NY Times’ article – James Cameron is chosen to quote on the exotic buffet, while in reality he is an avid promoter of eating nothing but vegetables!

I do oppose the bizarre culinary ritual for the following reason – I simply do not think it is justifiable. It is one thing to find yourself in the wilderness and share the local food habits, but paying $400 to gorge on exotic animals while dressed in a tuxedo, drinking champagne on one of the most expensive streets in the world doesn’t sound “Explorer’ish” to me. It might have worked in the past to attract fundraising from a crowd that knew so little of the outside world, but in today’s reality – I strongly believe that it doesn’t have its place. In fact I think that the practice is childish, provocative and quite frankly rude.

Most of these animals can be eaten in a sustainable way. In fact I have visited places, like in Argentina where a caiman farm has not only helped reduce poaching, but also has increased the population in the wild. The problem is mainly one of consideration and social etiquette. In a world of many diets, strong opinions and social media, these kind of events just don’t cut it.

Judging from the emails in my inbox, I don’t think that the Explorers Club is getting any good publicity and will certainly not increase its membership this way either. It is the second time that I witness the food served at ocean or nature related events backfiring. The other instance was at the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, when James Cameron received his award and told the crowd that going veggie was the way of the future, only that have the following diner served steaks! I know that the Pacific Voyagers Foundation made it clear that it wouldn’t get involved anymore if the Summit didn’t change its food policy. The result was that at the beginning of the year, Blue Ocean announced that it was now moving forward with a strictly vegetarian menu.

I don’t think that the Explorers Club should do the same but getting rid of that culinary farce is surely a priority. In a place where exploration should ride on the same level as honoring nature, champagne and alligator are more barbaric anachronisms than anything else. Mind as well go ahead and serve shark fin soup and rhinoceros powder – of course from sustainable farm!

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 1.24.09 PM

Concept vs Reality, a Cautionary Tale

Procrastination! It has been more than a month since my last post. It is not like I have nothing to write about. In fact, I have a long list, my head full of words that are trying to find their way out. The problem has been simple – plain old boring lack of motivation! You might catch me talking for more than my share at dinners or in the car with friends, but when the time comes to sit at the computer and stare at that screen, that same computer I have been trying to get away from for so long, my mind simply disappears. It goes away, fleeing the scene like a child that has absolutely no desire of taking a bath! I sit on that chair, pressing the keys randomly, as if I was waiting for some magical event – a kind of trance where my fingers would start moving without me thinking about it. But then the minutes pass, my mind wanders, my eyes look away – out the window – and next thing I know, I have moved on to something else. Maybe coming clean about my lack of concentration and laziness will force me forward. First step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging you have a problem right?

Hello, my name is Daniel (Hello Daniel). I have been lazy for over a month now. There, I’ve said it! Now let’s do some writing!

DLD_DanielFox_2013_22Last month I attended the conference DLD in Munich, where I was doing some creative photography. DLD stands for Digital Lifestyle Design. It was truly incredible to meet and hear so many fascinating people, creative in so many ways, and all out trying to make the world a better place. But every time I find myself in these events, every time I hear these talks, I am always left with a bitter aftertaste. Let me explain why in two parts.

The first part is about concept and reality. The second is published on the EPIC conservation blog and is titled – Our Salvation in God Technologius.

Air Force captain Theodore Van Kirk, navigator of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan said in 2005:

“I pray no man will have to witness that sight again. Such a terrible waste, such a loss of life. We unleashed the first atomic bomb, and I hope there will never be another. I pray that we have learned a lesson for all time. But I’m not sure that we have.”

There is a reason why today the world is still afraid of nuclear – we still have a physical memory of its destructive power. Whether it is the Second World War or Chernobyl disaster, the damages were so visceral that it’s stayed in our cultural collective memory. Independently of how beneficial nuclear energy could be for a sustainable world, no one wants to go for it.

nuclear-bomb-explosion2There was a time when our world lived in a reality – we were connected to real things, real consequences, our connection to the world was physical. Nowadays, things couldn’t be more different. Life has become a concept. Our connection to our world is through theories, algorithms and computers. Nature is a remote “beautified” possession, an ideology of a pristine static environment. Our “zero casualties” wars are conducted by drones, piloted by video gamers who sit behind a screen and go back home to their families at the end of the day. Collateral damage is only something they see and calculate, not feel. None of these soldiers go home and have nightmares from the horrors of war. The consequences of our actions are pushed out, hiding away the destructive effect our lifestyle and choice of values has. And with all of this, our arrogance grows to new heights.

We have to be careful in our semantics and what we pretend to understand. Loving the cuteness of polar bears does not make someone connected to nature. Fighting a war with drones does not mean you understand what war is. Talking about garbage in the ocean doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Being a vegetarian does not make you a friend of the planet. Being an expert in coding and algorithms surely doesn’t make you expert in life. Having thousands of friends on Facebook doesn’t mean you are a nice person to be around. Being famous doesn’t mean you bring value to society. And having all this technology available doesn’t make us better or more advance.The debate has become really important not only in our relationship with nature, but also with violence. The last shooting in the USA and the need for gun reforms has led to pointing fingers to the usual culprits, with the usual answer – “Violence has always existed!” Yes, it has, but our relationship with it was real, physical. Today, violence is a game, a concept, a virtual experience. The world is constantly exposed to violence, but from its seat in front of a television or while playing a video game. Movies have become more and more violently graphic due to the technology in special effects.

OB-MR292_bullet_G_20110222024233

The most popular video games are the bloody and violent ones where the players kill and butcher their way around. But all of this is only a concept. Even bullying has lost it sense of reality, except for the ones who suffer from it. Hiding behind the screen, kids no longer censor themselves and their mean and cruel behaviour finds false courage in anonymity. In the past, you needed to have balls and arrogance to play bully.  Now you only need to be a coward to terrorise your school. If that was not enough, once home, a child would usually be clear of the bullies, but now victims can’t hide because the attackers find their way into their rooms, into their computers, into their “online identities”. How can we expect the children to have any sense of consequences to their actions when the world around them glamourises damages and feeds on misery?

We are entering a new age where robots will start to perform more and more tasks and with them they will take away our last connection to reality. Will we fully drown ourselves in an ocean of virtuality and concepts? I have written before on how knowledge is our Achille’s Heel

“… from within our cities, sitting behind computers or staring down at our “smart” phones, we claim our superiority and gaze at the world around us in a conceited way. Detached from any realities, we think of aging as a disease, that good parenting means monitoring our children every single second, that consuming green will fix our consumerism, that the idea of implanting a device in our brain to fix an imbalance is pure genius, that people who gamble our savings have a right to do so, that Facebook is real, that the web brings us closer, that food is only a recipe of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, and that nature is only a resource that demands to be quantified and managed…”

and about our flawed perception of nature.

“… It is no longer a destination but rather the emotionally charged and personified notion of an animal’s struggle to survive, whether it is the “march of the emperor penguin” or the “fate of the polar bears”. We now live in a world where natural realities are being blown out of proportion and every minute struggle in an animal’s life is over empathised for. Living in cities, feeding ourselves from grocery stores and spending our weekends in the park around the corner, the natural world has become a beautified concept, a Disney story and a pretty picture on the wall…” 

In the book “Concept & Reality in Early Buddhist Thought” the author refers to the mind’s conceptual proliferation, its tendency to create a screen of concepts by which it misinterprets the basic data of experience. From behind our television and our computers, it has become too easy to conceptualise the world, life, ourselves, our issues, our challenges. At DLD, there was excitement in the air, a sense of euphoria, talking about all this new data we are gathering, all these doors that technology is opening – and how all of this will make our lives better, how it will come and take away all our problems. Really? Aren’t we forgetting the most fundamental reality? As much as all this information, all these possibilities, are painting a really bright and promising future, the truth is that, at the end of the day, we are humans, not machines.

All this reminded me of the NOVA’s documentary Mind Over Money, with Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago School of Economics with their rational expectations and their belief that economics has nothing to do with human behaviour.  That it can all be boiled down to equations and formulas – a disconnected utopian world of theories… look where it has led us.

The beauty of our lives – of life – does not find its root in numbers, codes and algorithms. Following a recipe to the letter doesn’t mean it will create the perfect dish. It is the human touch that brings the real value. John Maeda was on the dot at DLD 2013 when he said, talking about design: “The beauty comes from what you experience, the emotions, the facial expressions, the subtleties and for that there is no design thinking algorithm”.

More on the EPIC blog.

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Our Salvation in God Technologius

Data & Technology are two pillars that have redefined our world in every imaginable and possible way. From design to healthcare, from business to personal relationship, from war to education, there is not an inch of our lives that hasn’t been affected. While the other essay looked at data and the dangers of living in a world of concepts – disconnected from realities, this text will look at technology and how it is driving us further and further away from nature and the true essence of life.

ipad godTechnology has become today’s most important religion. Much like pilgrimages in the past, people now demonstrate the same kind of devotion to hardware, lining up in front of stores for days or weeks just to buy the newest model. Not that there is a limited amount of them available for purchase. On the contrary. But the act of holding in your hands the newest iPhone seems to offer the same kind of “spiritual” experience as to touching a statue of Jesus after climbing up Scala Sancta on your knees.

Although technology is fulfilling most of the criteria of being a religion, it differs on one of the fundamentals – Divinity. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism worship a God, Gods and Goddesses, supreme beings from a supernatural realm. Technology holds a more corporeal attraction, stripping away the supernatural and putting divinity within the human grasp. Humans are now the divine. Humans are gods and life is something constraining from which they can break free. This new reality was strikingly evident at DLD 2013.

Before we go into the specifics, let’s just have a look at how the application of technology into our lives can be divided into three distinct categories.

SALVATION
The definition of salvation is the following: “Deliverance from sin and its consequences, believed by Christians to be brought about by faith in Christ / Preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss / A source or means of being saved in this way. The word comes from Latin salvare – ‘to save’.

Technology saving earthThat is exactly how we see technology today. We expect, hope and blindingly believe that it will deliver us from our sins. That it will correct and fix the damages created by our unsustainable lifestyle. We think there is no need to reassess how we do things and why we do them, but that the problem is only a question of application, of management. So if we can come up with the right solution, the right technology, everything will be alright. Therefore, we continue to plunder our way through, waiting for the silver bullet, just a like an addict gambler who gambles his last dollar, convinced that his luck will turn around.

UNFAIRNESS
Life is unfair and we anticipate the day when technology will correct this mistake. Our privileged upbringing in the Age of Invention leads us to intuit that natural selection is broken and flawed. Nobody should have to deal with birth defects or the loss of a limb. Nobody should have to live with unbalanced hormones or bad genetics. Everybody deserves to be “happy” and anything that infringes on that “right” needs to be corrected or eliminated. Whether it is a disease, our fear of ageing or our lack of self-esteem, nature is the enemy.

What we have been able “fix” so far is nothing compared to the scale of what we will be able to “repair” in the near future. Gattaca was science fiction in 1997 but today it is reality. No one will want to accept what life has given them, instead focusing on what they don’t have and how to get it. From the moment we are born we will start shopping to mend our undesired and unwanted bodies – hormones, surgeries, implants, electrodes, nano shots, etc. Technology will try to re-create the human body, making it more resilient, longer lasting, resistant to aging, smarter and stronger – so we believe.

FLAWED HUMANS
The evolution of society would teach us that not only is our body limiting us to achieve maximum potential, but it is above all else a source of great risk. While computers are consistent, logical, rational, fast and powerful, humans are – simply put – a pool of emotions always on the verge of breaking. Technology will make sure to correct this unpredictable, risky and unsafe situation by taking humans out of the equation – for the greater good of humanity!

Hugh Herr is an Associate Professor within MIT’s Program of Media Arts and Sciences, and The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. His talk at DLD 2013 embodied to the core the “unfairness” mentality. He envisions a world free of injustice where bionics and machines “cure” us from our disabilities. He rejoices at the promise of a world where humans will be “fixed”. Himself victim of an accident that took away both lower legs, he professes how he has become a better athlete with his artificial limbs.

It is his moralistic view that worries me the most, that it is a human right to be born “perfect” and that machines and technology will be our way to perfection. He states:

“Over half of the world’s population suffers from a cognitive, emotional, or physical condition and because of poor technology, bad technology, these conditions often resolve in disability and poorer quality of life. It is my view that basic levels of cognitive emotional sensory and physical function should be a part of our human rights. Each person in the world should have the right to live without debilitating disabilities… Through fundamental advances in human machine interaction we can eliminate disability and set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience. The mergence of humans with machines and the elimination of disability will be one of the great narratives of this century”

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 12.08.25 PMAt the end of his presentation at DLD, Herr welcomed on the stage one of his climbing heroes Reinhold Messner for a chat. It was obvious that Messner was not so excited about the prospect of living in a world where our bodies would merge with machines – even going as far as to predict the death of our species. In response Herr admitted that there were great dangers on entering these treacherous waters, but believed that we would be able to manage and control the applications.

“… how depressed do you need to be to have an intervention? Do we want people to receive the intervention that are slightly depressed who producing great art or do we only want it to use when they are suicidal? These are very complex questions that we will have to address.”

In response I would draw a correlation to the plastic surgery industry – a medical advancement developed to help people in real need, but which has evolved into an industry which profits mainly from insecure egos. Towards the end of their discussion, Messner posited that in reality this technology would only be used by the rich and leave behind the poor, to which Herr answered that manufacturing would be done in such a way that local communities could build such high tech devices at very low costs, consequently allowing anyone to use it. Again, our record is not really optimistic, whether with medication (drugs) or healthcare. Our system is far from being an example of fair opportunities. It is flagrantly naive to believe that the proliferation of bionics will be any more altruistically managed by society.

428102_10151434935701800_1544050890_nMissy Cummings is an Associate Professor in the Aeronautics & Astronautics Department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the Humans and Automation Lab. She appeared on the Daily Show (part 1, 2, 3 of the interview) recently to discuss the technology behind drones and highlight their uses outside the battlefield. Cummings is a firm believer that humans are a risk and that the sooner we take them out of the equation, the better it will be for everyone.

“…80% of all aviation accidents, commercial and military, are due to pilot error, so the machines doesn’t make mistakes that we make…”

Pushing further, she suggested that technology had even been beneficial for gender discrimination

“… technology has kind of equalised the playing field because now the automation is a much better pilot no matter what gender there is [piloting]. It is not men vs women anymore, but Man vs Machine … machines are simply better pilots than humans.”

Stewart then worried that we were taking the “Art” of flying away and warned that even though computers were great, they still failed from time to time. Cummings replied that, just like anybody that works in technology, we would have the necessary structure in place to deal and contain any problems.

With both Herr and Cummings, there is a recurring theme, a word that constantly comes up with whomever presents or talks about technology – speed. Everything is going so fast these days, so fast indeed that the only way to keep up is by going faster. Hence the need for machines.

“… this technology is advancing at such a lighting speed it is ultimately only limited by the human ability to process the information… ” says Cummings.

This for me is the scariest and most worrisome aspect of the whole technology and future debate. The notion of pressing the gas pedal when you are about to loose control is the most illogical and arrogant argument ever.

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 2.39.40 PMWhen DLD audience member Elizabeth Taylor asked Peter Thiel, following his talk (check timecode 47:10), about his Acceleration Model and that perhaps we should decelerate since our quest for growth and constant acceleration has had tremendous consequences on the planet’s resources, Thiel answered that the past acceleration was one of collapse, which he states was not a proper acceleration, that we should focus on “good” acceleration. He concluded with

“… technological acceleration is absolutely critical at this point because the other three models (cycle, deceleration, collapse) are worst … the only way forward is through technological progress with all the risks that it entails … the current model is indeed not entirely sustainable but we have to actually move forward even faster…”

As if we hadn’t learned anything from the past, there is this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come. That all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex.

Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.

“… there is no better imagery to epitomize our life journey, than the river. It starts from a point, and ends at another. No matter how wild the river is, no matter how unruly it wants to be, it still has a direction, a purpose, to reach the ocean. It flows blindingly to a place where it will cease to exist. It will merge with something bigger, it will become one with the others. Young rivers are straight – giving more importance in the destination rather than the journey, often missing much of the world they flow in. Their banks offering no protection, the water rushes down, in a hurry. Old rivers meander, understanding that the journey is more important. They turn right and left, sometimes go back up, they explore and wander. There curves offer refuge to others and soon their banks and waters find themselves bursting with life.” – from a story I wrote in 2010 Rio Chubut

I am not against technology -believe me. I love my gadgets and all the convenience they bring me. But we need to be humble and remember who we are, and more critically, the limitations of the collective “We”. There are countless concrete past experiences, and stories, that we can go back to and realize that independently however much we think we are in control, we are not. And that our quest for perfection has consequences that are not worth it.

We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip!

“Nietzsche, who believed that every man should be a god to himself, saw the challenge of being human in a very simple phrase. He spoke of the human condition as being between the animal and the superman – that is the challenge of the human condition – what you make out of your endowment as an animal and how far you can go along the journey of becoming a god. But even himself, the philosopher against pity, the master of conceptualising everything, felt overwhelmed by the sight of a fallen horse in the street of Turin and rushed to its side, putting his arm around it. Nietzsche was able to express in one of his last gestures to the world, profound sympathy for living condition animals and humans share. Nietzsche’s last sane action had been to affirm his identity not as a god but as a man full of human weaknesses” BBC Documentary Nietzsche – Human, All Too Human

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2013 Wish – Go Out!

oregon_30

Now that the holidays are over, that the cacophony of consumerism has been muted, that our bodies are feeling the excess of celebrating and that the believers in the end of the world have had to deal with a doomsday-no-show, in is time to look ahead and hope for wishful thoughts.

Last December, Outside magazine published an amazing article written by Florence Williamstitled “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning”. The text was about how now science is slowly understanding and capable of explaining the positive neurological effects spending time in nature does to your brain and body. Armed with a battery of machines and sensors, scientists are able to identify the causes and consequences of lets say a walk in the forest. As I rejoice myself with the obvious conclusion, I worry of what is to come next. Williams is also aware of the danger, pointing that our “modern world” will try to put nature in a can, “feel nature without even trying”.

“Nature hates calculators.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…” Walt Whitman

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs

Time in nature is more than chemical reactions. It is not just about our natural immune cells increasing every time we take a walk in the forest. Even if one day we are able to create a pill that will replicate the physical sensations of spending time on a beach, it will never do justice and bring the same benefits as the real experience. Nature is about breaking away from the chaos and anxiety we find ourselves so easily trapped in. It is a conscious effort of taking the time to relax. It is about making a choice of values and priorities. In this era of smart phones, computers, tablets, constant connection to the web and relentless solicitation to consume, these decisions to “disconnect” from this overbearing artificial stimuli does more than engage the neurones and immune systems, it is also one of the most rewarding sources of creativity.

And Kevin Charles Redmon writes precisely about this in his article: “Put Down the iPad, Lace Up the Hiking Boots

The results, which appear this month in PLoS One, were striking. Students who took the test after a four-day immersion in the backcountry scored 50 percent higher than their coursemates. “The current research indicates that there is a real, measurable cognitive advantage to be realised if we spend time truly immersed in a natural setting,” the authors write.

The study’s sample size was small and would best be repeated across several hundred subjects, thoroughly randomised. More importantly, the design doesn’t allow Strayer and his colleagues to pinpoint what’s causing the burst in creativity: is it the interaction with nature, the disconnection from technology, or both? And is physical exercise somehow involved? (Or could it be a flash of green?)

… Just how permanent are the neural ravages of Twitter, Gchat, and Gawker? Is a week in the Canyonlands every summer enough to restore our atrophied attention spans—or are we, the meme generation, totally hosed when it comes to consuming art more complex than a GIF or longer than 140 characters?

I have written before about the lack of imagination in today’s children. The topic is nothing new. A quick search on the web reveals many studies and articles, whether in the Washington Post (Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity?) or Psychology Today (Children’s Freedom Has Declined So Has Their Creativity). Richard Louv is obviously well known with his “Last Child in the Woods” book, which has become close to a cult classic.

So my wish for 2013 is that we forget a little about trying to understand too much what happens when we go to nature and that we simply go because it feels good, because it does us good. I wish that we would stop this obsession to quantify everything and start just believing in common sense. I wish that each one of us makes a conscious decision to disconnect at least one day of the week or one day of the weekend, and go out – outside the city, go smell the fresh air, go Shinrin Yoku, go swim, go hike, go see the mountains, the beach, the forest, anything really, as long as you away from any screen.

Verwegen

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Looking out the window, sipping on a warm cup of green and mate tea, with a dash of local honey, this rainy afternoon in the country, just outside of Munich, is perfect to ponder on these past events of 2012, and wonder on the ones awaiting ahead. These last three weeks have been filled with happiness, joy, sadness, anger, good and bad news. I have laughed, cried, meditated, danced, and walked for hours in the forest. I have eaten, drank and enjoyed the pleasures of the German table without an ounce of guilt. I have met new incredible people and had to say goodbye to others dear to me. As the holidays are coming to an end, that the 13th baktun has passed, marking the end of the “Great Cycle” of the “Long Count” in the Mayan calendar and consequently the beginning of a new cycle, I want to take the time to write down my wish for this new year.

As it is with most of my writing, inspiration comes to me spontaneously – while out and about, lying in the bed, in the shower, on a hike or paddling the river. It happens when my mind is at ease, when the clutter of life is filtered out and I am left alone with my thoughts. It happens when I welcome the silence and let the power of creativity works its magic. A word or a thought will find root and slowly start to attract others. Patterns will emerge, connections will appear and finally an idea, an opinion, a statement is formed and I suddenly find myself with the desire to write and share it.

This time, it was the combination of a fascinating talk over the beauty and complexity of the German language and a series of emails between one of my E.PI.C. advisors, Earl de Blonville and myself, about exploration and current expeditions.

Back in 2005, I started an online video project called ibrido. The word means hybrid in Italian. I chose that name to highlight what I thought was the path to our future. To successfully adapt and assure our survival, we, as a society, would have to find an equilibrium between wisdom and technology, between the freedom of the individual and the responsibilities of the community, between seeking personal gain and aiming for the common good of the society. In other words, to survive, our species would have to hybrid itself, applying strong values and principles from the past to opportunities technology would create in the future. It didn’t mean that we would have to deny technology and go back to live like caveman, but rather embracing the future with a wisdom acquired over time. It meant creating a new and wiser future.

In the world of exploration, not to undermine and discredit the work, dedication, and courage of every explorer out there, it seems though that the only thing we have been able to do is to look at the past and either seek to complete unfinished expeditions or simply to recreate them. Our idea of finding back the essence of exploration has been to stripped ourselves of support and technology and isolate our quest. While I agree on most of the topic, I find that we are missing something really important, something called VERWEGEN!

The German language has many words to sometime define slight variations of the same word. In this case, on Google Translate, the word BOLD can be translated into fett, kühn, mutig, fettgedruckt, dreist, verwegen, kräftig, wagemutig, tapfer, unerschrocken, plakativ, vermessen, unverfroren, grob, or tolldreist, depending of the meaning intended.  Verwegen comes from the german word “bewegen” – to move, to take action, to move quickly. As I have been told by a friend: “Verwegen has a certain naiveté, a certain charm to it. It is a state of mind, to hold the head up high with open eyes, facing whatever comes your way with a little smile, ready to take action with a dance.” In English the word “bold” can either be positive or negative, but verwegen has solely a positive connotation. It is not about ignoring the dangers, but to welcome them with an optimistic attitude. It is about believing in our capacity to handle the unexpected and to “boldly go where no one has gone before”!

Polar PodSo for my wish, I would like for us in 2013 to become “Verwegen Ibrido” (bold hybrid)! I want to see bold ideas that use technology but that are managed and structured around older values and principles. Confused? Let me give you a concrete example – Polar Pod, by Jean Louis Etienne. Drift the Furious Fifties on a 100m/330f, 720 tons platform. This project is modern yet captures the essence of exploration. It is grand and bold, yet simple. It celebrates time, drifting, moving with the elements, yet under the power of technology. I want us to become creative and use our imagination to rediscover our world. We don’t need to recreate the past to find the essence. We can inspire ourselves from the past to create the future.

Another example for me that illustrates the wide range of possibilities offered to us is the Whale Hunt by Jonathan Harris. A fascinating photographic project that combines technology, human spirit and extreme environments.

The E.P.I.C. expedition is also rooted in this spirit – navigating and exploring the seas, powered by the elements, yet maximising the current and upcoming technologies to educate and inform the public.

Yes there is a need and value to embrace the “primitive” way of exploration, the journey of man in nature, but let it not be at the detriment of our capacity to create new ways of discovering and sharing our experiences. Lets be bold, lets be creative, lets imagine the impossible, lets be optimistic, lets be VERWEGEN!

“For we are known for being at once most adventurous in action and yet most reflective beforehand; other men are bold in their ignorance whilst reflection would stop their onset. But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what lies before them, danger and glory alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it. For the whole Earth is a sepulchre of famous men and their story is not only graven in stone over their native land, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.”

Thucydides, From Pericles’ funeral oration, History of the Peloponnesian War

Happy Holidays! Away from the computer

Happy Holidays & a Wonderful New Year

Happy Holidays & a Wonderful New Year

This year I am starting a new tradition. The holidays are meant to be spent with friends and family. They are meant to break away from the workload and disconnect from the ever consuming world of constant access to information. They are meant go outside and take long walks. It is the time of the year where in other words, we should all be away from the computer and from all social media, and instead cherish the moment, the people around us, face to face, without thinking about our social career. So for the first time and hopefully for all years to come, I will be offline for 2 weeks, starting tomorrow evening. I hope actually to start a hashtag named #OfflineForChritmas and invite you to disconnect for 2 weeks, go on a social media diet, take a book, go play outside, leave the online world behind, just for a little while, detox your head and mind from the clutter of our connected lives and go free. I know that I am! So on that note, let me repeat my card:

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

All these little steps we take, all these little changes we make, are like the rain drops that fall high up in the mountains and trickle down to the ocean, joinning with others and becoming fierce rivers. Lets all move towards a promising and positive future. One where nature will be a state of mind, where humility will be valued and where the prospect of a simpler life will be welcome and embranced. I will see you back in 2013!

HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY, A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A WONDERFUL HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Science and Social Media

Following the previous post regarding the importance for the science community of reaching out to the public, here is a follow up on social media. Below is part of the guidelines I give to brands or companies when consulting them. Even though I write about clients,  companies or brands, the principles are the same whether you are a single scientist or someone part of a science team.

The principles of the social media scene are nothing new. They have always existed. What is different is the scale on which they affect our lives and also their relationship with technology. Humans have always socialised, it is actually part of our evolutionary survival. Whether at work, at schools or in the streets, individuals seek to connect with others. Ten years ago, and for hundreds of years before, this process was done generally face to face. People had to meet in flesh to develop relationships. Today, we have created tools that facilitate the expansion of our “social” network. And this is the most important change in our social behaviour. These tools not only helped people to connect, but they have created their own world.

This “world” is now accessible to anyone, anywhere, and for little effort. The rules that applied to our social lives, now are carried on into a place that knows no boundaries. This 4th place – the concept of a virtual social surrounding (the 3rd place being one between home and work) now defines the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

The most important tool for the social world is the smart phone. This device allows for uninterrupted connection and permits people to satisfy their instinctive need of belonging wherever they are and whenever. The effect on our consumption of information is immense. Social Media has transformed the narrative by turning the reader into an active player, and even often becoming the main character. Everyone participates in the dialogue. Everyone wants to participate. This intricate web of personal human stories has become a pillar in our society.

Now, a crucial key of Social Media is RELEVANCY. In a world already saturated with junk information and countless parties competing for attention, a successful strategy will be one that is based on a long term approach. Brands have become “individuals” and people treat them that way. People are loyal to brands in the same way they are loyal to friends. A friend makes you a better person – it listens to you, it helps you when you need it. Contrary to family, you choose that friend. It is the same for brands. Gone are the days where companies had the freedom to impose their will. Today, they must engage with their client and contribute to its well-being. Not in a healthy sense, but rather in a holistic sense (characterised by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole). That is why Apple has become so successful. Their goal was always to make life better, not to make money. Therefore they created products with which people saw their needs being answered and even surpassed. Apple’s main objective was to create the ultimate experience. They didn’t see their mission as one of creating computers, but rather to design a way of living. Which allowed them to move from computers, to phones, to music and to books. Although we can’t expect each brand to do so, the principles stay the same. Today, the business is about “EXPERIENCES”. To create “these” experiences, a strategy must look into the following points:

BE RELEVANT: You certainly don’t want your friends to bore your about things that don’t matter to you. Know and anticipate your client. Don’t become “Social Noise”.

REPETITION: Friendship is maintained through regular or daily contact. You share experiences and live life together. If your friend moves away to another city, it is most likely, that your friendship will gradually fade out. It is therefore important to constantly and daily interact with your client.

EDUCATE: Being social is in evolutionary terms, a way to get smart. When knowledge is transferred from person to person, from generation to generation, chances are that it will increase the ability to adapt and thrive. Educate your client. Make him/her smarter by feeding him/her content that is relevant. Help him/her expand his/her knowledge.

BE SMART: Don’t dumb down the conversation! There is so much junk out there, don’t be part of it. It is super easy to become the “Flavor” of the day, of the week, of the month. But you will disappear as fast as you appeared. Your aim should not be to attract traffic, but to cultivate what you have. Quality versus quantity produce loyal relationships.

TAKE YOUR TIME: Don’t be in race to accumulate followers. Don’t be easy for anything. Let your people expand your network. Their network is the one you want. It is pointless to have thousands of followers and be relevant only to a few.

GLOBAL: Time zones don’t exist anymore. Your friend can be halfway around the world and as much attention should be given to him than the one next door. There are amazing tools now like Automatic Schedule from Hootsuite to help you efficiently schedule your posts.

BE SOCIAL: Don’t be afraid to quote people, just let them know. Be proactive and expand your network. Like with friends, nothing will be achieved if you wait for people to come to you. Go and make the first move. Take part in the conversation.

BE CONNECTED: Tag the people, companies or organizations you mention. Facebook, Google + and Twitter all have this feature now so use it. See below. That way your post will spread beyond your own circle and reach new audiences.

Example of a post on Facebook

Example of a post on Facebook

 

Example of a post on Google +

Example of a post on Google +

BE GOOD: Etiquette has always been and will always be. It is too easy to steal content and disrespect others. People don’t mind having their work re-published, they just want to be acknowledged. Be polite and cordial when reaching out. Be respectful. Show the world that you REALLY care.

Science & Public Outreach

Working and funding science is not what it used to be. Even just ten years ago, a wannabe scientist or a Ph.D. Professor could stick with speaking only the science jargon and have a successful career without even once having to deal with the public. Except for a few exceptions, science was some kind of secret world. After learning the basics in school and successfully passing the tests, you were welcome to a world of seclusion, either in the lab or on the field. Funding came through your ability to deliver long and complex reports, filled with graphs and tables, equations and numbers. Articles were published in magazines that cared little about design with pages and pages of text. There was even a certain snobbism, dismissing the general public as below its realm of expertise. The content of its research was made only to those with the ability to decipher its riddles. The science world gleamed in its own little private universe, proud of its isolation and complexity.

Then the world changed!

Gone are the days of institutional financial security. Due to many factors, but aggravated by its own insulation, the science community is today unable to fund its research the way it use to. Governments and schools dealing with their own budget cuts have had their treasury chocked. With their primary source of revenue gone, scientists must now turn to a new world to support their work – the public! Whether by the form of individual or corporate sponsorship or online fundraising like Kickstarter, science studies and projects have to find new ways of reaching out to what has been for them, a foreign audience. Jenny Rohn, founder of LabLit & Science is Vital is on the spot when she says:

“Scientists ignore ‘the outside world’ at their peril. The general public has the power to deny your funding or restrict your experiments. It’s important to reach outside your laboratories, offices and field stations to engage with the wider world, to show people that science is essential and that researchers are working hard to help address important issues — that they are the good guys, not the enemy.”

The task might sound fairly simple and straight forward but the reality could not be more different. The marketing world spends billions every year trying to learn how to reach efficiently their client’s audience, with many still failing. While the science community is just starting to understand the challenge it has at task, it is still far from grasping the meaning of it and what it entails. The biggest mistake it does is to believe it only needs to use the new media outlets with the same scientific jargon. They could not be more wrong.

Communication is first and foremost a system built on an intricate web of social and emotional realities. It is not a simple question of elaborating knowledge through words and pointing to what they believe to be quite self explanatory. The human species is complicated when it comes to explaining why we do what we do even if we know it is wrong and not in our best interest. I have written many times about how science needs to change its narrative, how it needs to leave its comfort and often pretentious secular zone. (The Need for a New Story, Knowledge, our Achilles’ Heel, The Climate Change Issue)

Kate Pratt from Katie Ph.D wrote in Soapbox Science that:

“They (scientists) often shrug off the latest miscommunication in the press as the fault of some lazy journalist who didn’t read the press release correctly. They do not consider that they are perhaps to blame, and, instead of trying to improve their communication skills with the lay-public, they withdraw quietly into the protective shell that is academia… and when these individuals make an effort to reach out: other scientists deride them for being attention-seekers, especially if they do so using platforms such as blogs or social media websites. These behaviours have to change. If they don’t, science will continue to be seen as a closed off and elitist realm, and the public will continue to feel shut out, disenfranchised, and suspicious. Science has too long ignored public relations, marketing, and personal branding, and it’s time for that to change.”

She is right! When the science community fails to communicate its message, it is extremely quick at putting the blame on the receiver’s end.

As if this was not complicated enough, the format of communicating has seen its foundation thrown in the air and the jury is still debating as to when and how it will land back. We like to believe that today’s technology has made communication easier and cheaper. While it might be true in theory, in reality the process has become quite complicated, overwhelming, frustrating and can become relatively expensive. The internet is in constant flux. Social media tools come and go like seasons. If they stay, their monthly design and interaction overhaul make life impossibly annoying to any media and design specialists. What were only a few platforms to work with has now evolved into a panoply of services, all just slightly different from one another. On top of everything, the delivery of the content keeps reinventing itself every couple of years. Every time it does, the public develops new habits and communication strategies have to be redone. Television and radio were pretty straightforward and consistent. Even though through time they became smaller, lighter and thinner, their concept and functionality stayed the same. But now we have smart phones, and tablets that not only become more powerful every two years but also constantly change the way we interact with them.

So what to do?

Three words – hire media specialists! Yes, that is correct. By this I DON’T mean hire a scientist to write blogs. I mean hire someone who doesn’t know much about science but is expert at reaching out to the public through videos, photos, and writings. A content producer, a person who knows how to manage and maximise social media. A person who can create a compelling multi media story around your project. Would you hire a public relation person to do an in-depth analysis of the chemical reaction created when supercritical fluids from hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean come into contact with salt water? No, my point! Focus on trying explaining the work and science to one person and let that person do its magic. There is only a handful of scientists in the world that are capable of doing science and translating it into a compelling narrative. Don’t assume that all scientists have the capacity to create captivating content. The days of long blogs with simple photos are gone. Today it is about videos, interviews, behind the scenes moments, strategic posts on Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and it is about linking all these platform together. Kaite Pratt again on the topic”

“… they (scientists) rely, a lot of the time, upon active volunteers. We need to pay more heed to these ideas, fund them, and move them from the world of science communication and into the world of general public appeal. Of course there is a long road ahead, but it is time to acknowledge that this is the road we have to take. Science has a PR problem, and we need to fix it.”

Science can be fun. Science is fun! You don’t have to dumbed down the content to reach out to the public. Many have been really successful at doing it. Think of Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Think of the television show Nova on PBS. But understand that it might not be your cup of tea. Don’t be ashamed of it. You don’t have to like doing it or even understand it. But simply understand that communicating your work, studies or projects has become essential, not only for funding reasons but also because it is part of your mandate as a scientist to teach and educate the word.

Here are some interesting quotes

James Gleick: “I also believe that analogy is the way humans learn and explore our world. It’s true at some level that a physicist will say that the language of nature is mathematics, but I also believe that any physicist in creating his or her own understanding of the world is automatically thinking in terms of analogies. I believe that any scientific model or theory is a kind of analogy, which is to say imperfect, flawed by definition and at least incomplete. It’s a model, it’s not the world itself.”

Jonathan Foley, professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour and director of the Institute on the Environment: “Being on social media is essential for anyone who wants to turn their research and teaching into real-world outcomes. If you’re not using social media today, then you’re missing a great opportunity for broader education and engagement, which is part of our missions as a 21st century land grant university.”

Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein, “Ultimately, everyone in this room is on some level an entertainer. We are competing for readers’ attention against blogs, video games and movies. What I’m trying to do is tell stories that can take people from place A to place B, not just in a narrative arc but in terms of their understanding of a subject. It can be tremendously rewarding to be taken on a journey like that.”

Jeremy Yoder “It wasn’t that long ago that we were taught to write scientific papers in a passive voice. Social media demands a more personal touch…”

Jared Diamond, author of  The Third Chimpanzee, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: “Everyday you can read a scientist complaining that the public doesn’t understand science.That the federal government doesn’t invest enough money in science and science education. But what it comes down to is that most scientists and academics just don’t want to do the things that would help the public… Unfortunately, an occupational hazard of being an academic who writes for the general public is that you’re going to get flak from other academics who’ve spent their whole lives being told to write in the precise fashion for the five experts in their field. A theme as big as the differences between traditional societies and modern societies deserves a book that is 100,000 pages long but no one is going to read that.” 

INTERESTING READINGS
Science writing: how do you make complex issues accessible and readable?
Reaching Out: Science has a PR Problem
How scientists can reach out with social media
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Wrong Idea of Nature

“It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” Theodore Roosevelt

I often wonder how Roosevelt would be perceived today. A republican, a liberal, a politician, a cowboy, a rebel, a naturalist, an explorer, a scientist, an avid reader, a soldier, and a lover of nature. He was also a great hunter who went hunting in Africa but in the process helped the Smithsonian museum creating an exhibit that would fascinate and continues to do so to millions of children and adults alike.

He was someone who believed in using natural resources, but opposed being wasteful. What would the United States of America look like today if he hadn’t created 5 national parks, 18 national monuments and 150 National Forests, protecting more than 230 million acres (930,000 km2) of American soil in various parks and other federal projects.

Would Roosevelt be thrown to the pit by the conservationists? Would he be called an “animal hater” by the nature activists? Unfortunately I believe so, and to the lost of our culture.

Like politics and many other issues in our society, nature and the environment have become extremely polarised topics. Common sense has become a rare commodity, replaced by harsh judgements to anyone who tries seeking the middle ground. You are either one or the other and dare if you wish to bring some perspective to the table.

In my talks about our relationship with nature, I spend a lot of time showing how not only have we become disconnected with our environment but also how our perception of nature has become extremely erroneous.

Living in cities, away from the wilderness we are detached from the realities of living in nature. We shop for food at the grocery store, getting our electricity without much effort and have our garbage picked up every week. Our lawn is mown weekly and kept green with pesticide. The modern definition of nature is now a “sanitised and censored” one.

We personify it as this cute and cuddly entity that just needs to be taken care of, fragile and delicate, in dire need of our protection, us its Saviour! Nature has become this poster we put on the wall and admire, this beautified television show where a predator capturing its prey is edited so that blood and death don’t appear to the viewer. It is a world where animated ant, fish, dog, and bear talk and move like humans. A world where hunters who decide to connect with their food are branded prehistoric barbarian and animal loving extremists the voice for an unfortunate and unrepresented kingdom. It is a nostalgic ideology of a pristine and utopian world, a debate where anyone who doesn’t cheer for the cat and eats meat is deemed cruel and against the planet.

But nature is far from any of this. Nature is raw, rough, a struggle, a fight, cruel, deadly, strong, destructive, intimidating and yes also amazing, beautiful, relaxing, humbly, and inspirational. Above it all though, it is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It teaches you about perspective and reminds you that life is not about Us, that there is something bigger than Us, mere little humans. It teaches you about the costs of life, about sacrifices and what it takes to survive. Try to understand what it means for a species to spend most of its life and energy giving birth to hundreds of thousands, even millions, just to have a handful of survivors. While all the dead ones are essential to support a complex food chain that makes this great biodiversity inhabiting the planet possible. There is nothing sad about this because this is life.

It is easy to chastise the indigenous for hunting when sitting behind a desk pampered by today’s convenient world. It is easy to claim your love for deer, coyotes, elephants, monkeys, badgers, and so many more when you don’t have to physically deal the consequences of their presence. It is easy to click any cause on Facebook and claim to the world what you believe in. I dare you to go live with monkeys in your backyard and see how you deal with them. I dare you to go and deal with elephants destroying your crops year after year. I dare you to go live where deer will eat everything you plant on your property.

Did you know that elephants cause millions of damage and are involved in destruction of woodland and contamination of water?

Did you know that Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms eating soybeans, watermelons, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, potatoes and mushrooms, destroying about 5,000 hectares of farmland each year?

And if by any chance the price of your “organic” food increases, lets say because of “nature” – weather related or some invasion, you are the first one to cry unfairness.

Did you know that our society’s beloved domesticated cat has been responsible for hundreds of million of dead mammals, birds and others? Combined with rats, they have almost wiped out entire island’s ecosystems – so much for  our infatuation with the small feline.

So when the CBS Sunday Morning show aired the segment, the “Pro & Cons of Growing Animal Population”, featuring Jim Sterba’s new book “Nature Wars”, harsh comments quickly followed – “… this is anti-nature bullshit propaganda…”.

Because we see nature as this static world. Because we see ourselves separated from it, better than it. Because we believe we are above it. Because we want to pick and choose only the “good” things from nature. But ask any Inuit or Eskimo and they will tell you that the “Whites” live in an egotistical bubble detached from any realities and absolutely disconnected with real nature. And I agree with them.

Nature connectedness doesn’t mean wanting to protect nature – in fact “protecting nature” is a modern concept. It means understanding that you are a part of it and that you are dependent on it for your food, health and survival. It means that you understand that if you don’t respect it and accept the finitely of it, it is not nature that will loose but you.

Being connected to nature is not eating organic food, supporting animal welfare organisations, consuming green or being vegan or vegetarian. It is not about being emotionally attached to it either. Being connected to nature is to understand our interconnectivity with our environment. It is about accepting its teachings, to understand about losses, death, that nothing is perfect – that life is about perspective, that everything is relative. Being connected to nature is basically one simple word, humility. But like everything else right now, we see the world and the planet through the anthropocene lens and believe that life will end if we don’t fix our mess.

I will go as far as to say that except for old indigenous cultures I don’t believe that neither Buddhism nor Hinduism, or again Paganism are philosophies or religions that are connected to nature, because they all put humans as the central being and above everything else. The day that we will stop seeing ourselves as this god creature, we will then be for the first time on the right path.

Our bond with nature has become conceptual not physical and here lies the problematic. Away from its realities, we  are unable to balance our judgements. We are ruled by our emotions and incapable of seeing the bigger picture.

“I heartily enjoy this life, with its perfect freedom, for I am very fond of hunting, and there are few sensations I prefer to that of galloping over these rolling limitless prairies, with rifle in hand, or winding my way among the barren, fantastic and grimly picturesque deserts of the so-called Bad Land… its toughness and hardy endurance fitted it to contend with purely natural forces… to resist cold and wintery blasts or the heat of the thirsty summer, to wander away to new pastures, to plunge over the broken ground, and to plow its way through snow drifts or quagmires… There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Theodore Roosevelt

Recommended articles
Killing Animals to Save Animals: A Conundrum
A New Breed of Hunter Shoots, Eats and Tells
The mechanical guts of the universe
Nature Connected Psychology: Creating Moments That Let Earth Teach
Germany to Ban Sex with Animals
David Bellwood: Lessons from coral reefs from PopTech on Vimeo.

The Climate Change Issue

Watching Frontline’s latest segment, “Climate of Doubt” I was once again reminded of the failure from the science and conservation communities in reaching out to the public.

Back in my early days, I used to be an agent for photographers and painters. From the talents I represented, it was clear to me that there were two categories of artists. The ones who believed that work would come to them and the ones who knew they had to go and get the jobs themselves. This reality also led me to understand one thing. The world is filled with talent and someone who might have less of it, but possesses great skills at promoting himself will fare better than the prodigy who is incapable of reaching beyond his studio. It is not always the ones with the greatest talent who become famous, but the ones who know how to promote their work. The moral of the story I concluded was that it didn’t matter what you had, it didn’t matter if you were the best, it didn’t matter if you held the truth, it didn’t matter what you meant to say. What mattered was how the world perceived you and how people understood you. It is not what you say, but what people hear. It is not what you do, but how people feel about it. And this is something the scientists and environmentalists – and by the same token, the democrats or liberals, have still failed to understand.

Communication, according to the dictionary, is “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”. It is achieved when the receiving party processes the information with the same intent the emitter had when sending it. This means that if I say “Hello” to a friend, he or she will understand the polite gesture and therefore reciprocate with another “Hello”. This brief communication was a success since both agreed on the meaning of the word. If I say the same “Hello” to a total stranger walking down the street, my seemingly innocent gesture might be misinterpreted and suddenly the tone, what I wear, the location, the time of the day, my age, all will have an affect on how my simple salutation is going to be interpreted.

Communication is one of the most complex and difficult tasks in the world. Why? Because it is filled with innuendoes, interpretations, opinions and emotions. Add body language, culture, and religion to this, and you quickly find yourself with complete “miscommunication”. The US conservatives (Republicans or climate change deniers) realised a long time ago how to communicate efficiently. They have understood that the public doesn’t care about scientific facts. What people care about are jobs, the economy and security, in others words, their own priorities and personal values. Science is not this unbreakable knowledge. Some facts might be obvious but their interpretation varies extremely. But the scientists believe that simply giving people the facts will be enough not only to understand, but also to change the behaviour of an individual. In “Climate of Doubt” John Kerry (minute 33 in video) blames the loss of momentum in public perception about climate change because of a lack of money and lies:

“… as the campaign of fear built up people began to retreat they spent huge sums of money in a campaign of major dis-information that had a impact, a profound impact, and it has now made many people in public life very gun-shy because they are afraid of having those amount of money spent against them…” 

His view is not only wrong but also reinforces the evidence of total lack of understanding of the dynamics of communication.

For most people, climate change is an overwhelming and extremely confusing topic. In a post I wrote earlier this year, “Climate Change: A Pointless Debate, I argue that:

“Instead of attacking the source of the problem, our lifestyle, our values, our system and its obvious, concrete, and irrefutable consequences – pollution, ocean acidification, disappearance of fish stocks, total destruction of the environment – so obvious in fact that no one can argue about them, we have had to focus our attention and debate on something so conceptual and evolutionarily insignificant as the rise in temperatures on a global scale….it is also moving the most pressing issues away.”

The issue has a lot to do about perception. Climate change will be good for some, a great opportunity for others, bad for many and tragic for numerous. It all depends on which side you stand.

Polarising the debate has also been part of the problem. For many, there are only two parties – the ones accepting climate change and the ones who don’t. But in reality, there is a broad range of opinions in between. Through media and other campaigns, the debacle now insinuates that if you don’t support climate change, you are against nature and don’t care about the future of our children. If you do agree with climate change then you don’t care about jobs and the economy. Both statements are preposterous and extreme.

The strategy of the environmentalists and the Al Gore team has been to use the “Cane of Guilt” – meaning to bash people over their heads on how bad they have been and give them an ultimatum on how fast they need to change. Anyone with a little bit of education will tell you that fear is not a good way to inspire people. After a while, people are simply tired of the negative narrative. This year’s article in the Washington Post “Young Americans less interested in the environment than previous generations” is no surprise:

“…Mark Potosnak, an environmental science professor at DePaul University in Chicago, has noticed an increase in skepticism — or confusion — about climate change among his students as the national debate has heightened. That leads to fatigue, he said.

“It’s not so much that they don’t think it’s important. They’re just worn out,” Potosnak said. “It’s like poverty in a foreign country. You see the picture so many times, you become inured to it.”

A lot of young people also simply don’t spend that much time exploring nature, said Beth Christensen, a professor who heads the environmental studies department at Adelphi University on Long Island in New York…”

Going back to communication. It is not the two words “climate change” that people have now come to avoid. It is what they mean to them and what they insinuate. It is because of how they have been presented to the public, that the world is simply fed up of the topic. It is not a question of money, but a failure of understanding the core of the problem. The “pro climate change camp” keeps telling the world that the issue is about saving the world. This egotistical view is greatly limited. Over time, planet earth has been subject to worse catastrophes than climate change and is likely to see worse in the future. Changes in temperatures have come and gone over billions of years. Of course we are participating in, and accelerating the current trend. Of course there will be dramatic consequences, but they are small compared to the garbage choking our waters, the acid killing the oceans, the relentless plundering of the planet’s resources, and a total lack of respect of the consequences of what we do and create. As with disease, the western culture has always been more concerned about the symptoms than the causes. Obesity is not just a question of exercising and eating more vegetables, it is about our total relationship with food and about consumerism. Our problem is our absolute pretentious and arrogant approach to the world around us which is simply unsustainable.

It is important to watch “Climate of Doubt” to understand why the momentum on climate change failed. Fred Singer, Myron Ebell, Rep. James Sensenbrenner and Lord Monckton are not stupid, nor bad people. I don’t agree with neither of them, nor should you. But they have been successful at communicating their message, whether it is the truth or not. I have said it before, science is NOT and should NOT be the horse we ride on. Conservationists and scientists need desperately to understand that.

Philanthropy & Sponsorship

John D. Rockefeller was a controversial man who swam in scandals. Despite the fact that he was cruel in business and bullied his way to become the richest person in history, he also got to be remembered as one of the most important philanthropists the world has seen. Andrew Carnegie, another man who certainly had his share of controversies while amassing his fortune, gave all his money away – close to 5 billion in today’s value. Wal-Mart, which makes money on spreading global grand scale consumerism all around the world, gave close to 350 million dollars in 2011 alone. Ray Kroc who started the fast food company McDonald supported research and treatment of alcoholism, diabetes, and other diseases. His third wife, Joan donated 225 million to National Public Radio. In 2011 J.P.Morgan gave 203 million, 10% more than in the previous year while Exxon gave 233 million, an increase of 17%. Margaret A. Cargill, from the Cargill family, known for their numerous scandals over environmental issues, contamination, and human rights abuses, gave away more than $200 million to the American Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and others while she was alive. After her death, all of her assets were liquidated and transformed into a 6 billion charitable trust and foundation. Khalid bin Sultan, the deputy minister of Defense and a member of the House of Saud of Saudi Arabia, who was involved in the Yemen bombing of 2009, is also using his personal yacht and fortune for coral reef research through his Living Oceans Foundation. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, who has had his share of public scandals, was a critical founding member of WWF. More recently, John Paulson, a New Yorker infamous for his investments and losses, gave the Central Park Conservancy 100 million.

Nobody gets to build a fortune by being a gentle person. You don’t amass billions by being friendly and by playing by the rules. No one does. Philanthropy and sponsorship are products of the capitalist system. In social democratic countries like the one I grew up in, Canada, or in Europe, people pay a lot of taxes and it is the government that funds. There is a reason why the United States of America is a hotbed for innovation, technology, arts, and education. Elsewhere in the world, organizations and foundations struggle, entrepreneurship is tedious and extremely complicated, why? A lot has to do with the tax code, deductible donations and the psychology behind making money. Look at this list of the most notable philanthropists in the world and you will see that most are from the USA. No other country in the world gives as much as America. Yet no other country in the world consumes as much and has had as many involvements with wars than America.

Bob Marley once said, “Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect – and I don’t live to be – but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean!” Everybody has had their share of mistakes and has tasted the fruit of greed. No one can judge on the past, and certainly not when a person tries to leave a legacy that will benefit the lives of millions. Yes, maybe the desire for salvation might come through guilt, but so what! How many do you know who will walk that path of redemption? It takes a lot of courage to give money. Whether it is through fiscal loopholes, or to avoid taxes, donations are donations and they are the reason why so much good work is done at the other end.

Even we – explorers, conservationists, and environmentalists – have to deal with this reality. Our funds come from the same companies we often reprimand. Yet, it is the dance we all have to do, so that we can bring a balance. The companies know that and so do we.

I lift my hat to Paulson for donating such a large sum to Central Park. That money could have easily been kept in a secret account in a tax haven or invested in real estate. Instead, it will be put to the good of society.

“Man does not live by bread alone. I have known millionaires starving for lack of the nutriment, which alone can sustain all that, is human in man, and I know workmen, and many so-called poor men, who revel in luxuries beyond the power of those millionaires to reach. It is the mind that makes the body rich. There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else. Money can only be the useful drudge of things immeasurably higher than itself. Exalted beyond this, as it sometimes is, it remains Caliban still and still plays the beast. My aspirations take a higher flight. Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth.” Andrew Carnegie

 

Knowledge, our Achilles’ heel

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“In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information”. Anthony J. D’Angelo, founder of Collegiate Empowerment

It is hard today to hear a conversation that doesn’t involve the belief that our technology will be the key to solve our problems. We truly trust that our salvation lies in our ability to invent and create. We think that the issues we see do not reflect a problem that lies at the core of our values, but rather simply needs an adjustment in its application. At pretty much any conservation summit (The World Ocean in Singapore, BLUE in Monterey, etc) the message is always the same – the problem is only a question of bad management. If we could only find out the missing pieces of the puzzle, if we could only know more about the planet, nature, and its resources, then, only then, would we be able to act accordingly and “save” what is left. Our understanding is that the destruction of the planet and the abuses we have been responsible for, have occurred only because we lacked the know-how. So now we look at the present and the future and conclude that we must know more if we want to change. This, to my opinion is the root of the problem.

We consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species ever to populate the planet. We look at the past and compare ourselves to what was before. The fact is that all previous cultures once thought of themselves as omnipotent, powerful and of being capable of ruling the world. Each empire thought of itself as better than the one before. And each fell to its demise. We continue to understand our role as “stewards” of this planet. We think it is our duty to protect it. We continually see ourselves at the top of the pyramid looking down over our dominion. We don’t believe we are part of nature, but rather that we stand above it, separated from it, since we are better than it. We think of nature as this disconnected thing that exists outside of ourselves.

Our obsession for knowledge has turned us arrogant and immature. We are addicted to our brain and its capacities. We get high on what we can do. Our society lives in a constant sugar rush, drinking the technology & knowledge “Kool Aid” without any filter. We have kicked wisdom out of our lives, deeming it boring and against progress. But it is not because the chocolate cake is on the table that we have to eat it. We don’t think about the long-term consequences. We don’t think about the social impact of our discoveries. We only focus on the short-term gains. We only look for quick personal individual gratification. Frankenstein’s tale was precisely about that. When Mary Shelley wrote the horror story of the scientist and a monster, she did more than creating a new genre. Her novel was a premonition to what is in store for our world.

From within our cities, sitting behind computers or staring down at our “smart” phones, we claim our superiority and gaze at the world around us in a conceited way. Detached from any realities, we think of aging as a disease, that good parenting means monitoring our children every single second, that consuming green will fix our consumerism, that the idea of implanting a device in our brain to fix an imbalance is pure genius, that people who gamble our savings have a right to do so, that Facebook is real, that the web brings us closer, that food is only a recipe of carbs, proteins, sugars, and fats, and that nature is only a resource that demands to be quantified and managed. What Richard Louv wrote in his book “The Last Child in the Woods” can’t be measured so it is hardly considered. So we go the opposite way and go crazy with our quantification. We have to put a value on Planet Earth (5,000 trillion dollars according to astrophysicist Greg Laughlin) and on the oceans (check the Ocean Health Index for an orgy of numbers) to understand their importance. If it doesn’t have a number, we can’t understand it, or more, we don’ know how to value it. Knowledge is indeed important but it should not be the horse we ride on.

We have lost the ability to see the big picture. Because we are so good a looking at everything on an anatomical level we have become blind at grasping the bigger perspective. William R Catton does an amazing job at explaining why in his books Overshoot and Bottleneck. I strongly recommend you read the two.

Knowledge is not the reason why people change. If it was so, no one would smoke cigarettes, everybody would pay their credit cards on time, no one would break the law, everybody would follow the rules, there would be no economic crash and every politician would always make decisions for the good of society. The reality is that our life structure is based on values. And values differ. If we want to change, we will have to understand how people come to truly value things, and unfortunately, it is not through knowledge. No one that cherishes nature do so because of numbers, they all got to care and love nature by spending time in it. And here is the core of the argument.

For people to change, for children to develop the love and care for nature, we will have to literally reconnect our society with life and the planet. First, there needs to be direct correlation between our lifestyle and the state of the environment. We can talk about garbage littering our beaches and polluting our oceans as much as we want to and for many years, the fact remains that each and one of us is totally disconnected with the amount of garbage he or she produces and its impact. Everyone takes their garbage to the curb and says goodbye – out of sight, out of mind. There are absolutely no incentives whatsoever for people to produce less garbage and to understand the consequences of their consuming habits. Something they can’t physically feel is simply impossible to understand and care about. How can we make society care about the state of fishing stocks when subsidies create an illusion that masquerades the tragedy? How can they grasp the seriousness of the situation when the price of fish at the market has barely risen over the years. Even if they hear about the problems, the reality doesn’t touch them. Our world lives in a bubble detached from any consequences. We are sheltered from the impact our lifestyle creates. For our society to change, we will foremost have to accept the blame and consequences of our actions. We will have to be open to the idea that the fundamentals of our society are no longer valid with the current state of the planet. Until that day comes, all we will be doing is keep drowning in our own arrogance.

Daniel J. Boorstin, in his book “The Discoverers” said: ”The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” I think, today, it would be more accurate to say that “The greatest obstacle to living sustainably and in harmony with our environment is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge”.

BLUE recap Final

Day 6 was a day of Leaders & Legends. Hosted my I-O Glass is Life, the lunch ceremony was to honour a group of exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives for the conservation and care of the oceans. Barton Seaver, the master of ceremony, started the event by telling the audience about his own experience with the ocean, spending days fishing the Chesapeake Bay in Washington and discovering later in his life how pretty much everything he used to fish was no longer available. Seaver is a National Geographic Fellow and has now become an influential voice in the culinary world for his take on seafood and sustainability. In his first book, “For Cod and Country”, Seaver introduced an entirely new kind of cooking featuring seafood that hasn’t been overfished or harvested using destructive methods. He is also the host of National Geographic’s Web series “Cook-Wise”.

First to receive the honour was Robert Ballard. Ballard has been diving the depths of the oceans for more than 40 years and is mostly known for the discoveries of the wrecks of the RMS Titanic, the battleship Bismarck, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the wreck of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109. In 1990, he received the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award. He was the recipient of the Kilby International Awards in 1994 and of the Caird Medal of the National Maritime Museum in 2002. In 2004, Ballard was appointed professor of oceanography, and currently serves as Director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

The second to come to the podium was Sylvia Earle. Commonly known as “Her Deepness”, Earle is a legend in the ocean community. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, leader of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, council chair for the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, founder and chairman of the Deep Search Foundation, and the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean in Google Earth, she was named  by Time Magazine as the first Hero for the Planet. She has led more than 60 expeditions worldwide with more than 7,000 hours underwater in connection to her research.

Next on the list was Marcus Erikson. Marcus, a Gulf War veteran made a in promise to another marine in 2003: ‘If we survive this war, lets float down the Mississippi River.” Which he did, with “Bottle Rocket”, floating 2000 miles in 5 months on 232 plastic bottles to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2007, along with Anna Cummins, he built a raft using 15,000 plastic bottles, and called it JUNK. He then sailed the raft from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Since then they founded 5 Gyres  an organisation dedicated to science, education and adventure, and sailed 25,000 miles into the 5 subtropical gyres to document the global distribution of plastic pollution.

Graham Kelleher became the first Chairman and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. He worked with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and became the first Vice-Chairman, Marine of its World Commission on Protected Areas. He has designed systems of marine protected areas in several countries and is at present a member of the Scientific Council for MPAs in West Africa. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering, of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand and of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia, Fred M Packard International Parks Merit Award, the Centenary Medal and investiture into the Hall of Fame, Institution of Engineers, Australia.

Wallace Nichols is known for his relentless work on turtles and for giving away blue marbles. He has done extensive work on proving the neurological benefits of the ocean, the colour blue and the positive power of giving. He is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and founder/co-director of OceanRevolution. He has authored and co-authored more than 50 scientific papers and reports and his work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, National Geographic and Animal Planet and featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, Scientific American and New Scientist, among others. He is also the founder of BLUEMiND: The Mind + Ocean, an initiative, merging the fields of cognitive science and ocean exploration. Nichols took the stage and before thanking the audience went on to honour one of his most important mentors – Graham Kelleher. The moment totally took Kelleher by surprise and obviously touched him tremendously. The two embraced and reminded everyone one the importance of the work we do and the affect it has on younger generations. Make sure to read Wallace’s interview in Outside magazine.

The final honouree was Louie Psihoyos, producer of the movie The Cove. His first documentary has won over 70 awards globally including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. In 1980, at the age of twenty-three, he was hired by National Geographic and remained with the magazine for seventeen years. He has since received multiple awards for his photography, including first place in the World Press Contest and the Hearst Award. He has worked with magazines such as Smithsonian, Discover, GEO, Time, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.

Now that lunch was over, it was time for everyone to prepare themselves for the BLUE Carpet Awards ceremony and gala. Taking place at the Golden State theatre. The event felt more like an oceanic Oscar night, with photographers everywhere snapping shots of celebrities and of the directors/producers of more than 100 films. The big winner of the night was “The Island President”, but make sure to click here to see the list of winners. The BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit was a huge success this year and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say that we are looking forward to the next one…. in Monaco maybe, 2013? We surely hope so. Stay tuned!

BLUE festival Day 4 and 5

DAY 4

Although I had a full agenda – planning on seeing many talks, films and people, I had to put everything on hold for two days as I became the only photographer allowed to photograph one of the festival’s most prestigious guests, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco. The task, fairly easy, and on behalf of BLUE, was to follow the Prince during his two-day visit and capture on film key moments. Laura Orthwein, co-founder of BLUE, and Dan Laffoley from IUCN, were the two people from the festival and conservation summit, responsible to accompany him and manage his stay. The three of us quickly became best buddies as we manoeuvred our way through an exhausting 48 hours.

After the official introductions, the first stop was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where Julie Packard, Executive Director and Vice Chairman of the Aquarium’s Board of Trustees and Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator were waiting to give the group a private tour.

Built in 1984 and located on the site of a former sardine cannery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits some of the most stunning marine installations in the world. The Kelp Forest exhibit, a 28-foot (8.5 m) tall 333,000-US-gallon (1,260,000 l) tank is an impressive reproduction of the typical California Coast environment where shoals of pacific sardines mingle with leopard sharks, garibaldis and California sheepheads. The real long giant kelp in the tank grow an average of about four inches a day and require weekly underwater gardening by scuba divers. The Open Sea exhibit features a 1,000,000-US-gallon (3,800,000 l) tank with a 15-foot high and 90-foot across window that is simply breathtaking. Blue fin tuna, green sea turtles, ocean sunfish, dolphinfish, Pacific bonito, pelagic rays, sandbar and scalloped hammerhead sharks all swim in perfect harmony while a shoal of Pacific sardines moves around the tank in unison, often forming a giant hypnotising ball.

The visit was splendid. Besides the regular exhibits opened to the public, we were also shown the “behind the scenes”, the installations responsible for making this “Tour de Force” possible – what a treat is was! We even had the privilege of having one of the onsite scientists telling us more about the famous sea otter. For the occasion, one specimen was under anaesthesia so that we could have a first look at the marvellous creature.

With a sleepy sea otter

The visit was followed by the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit. HSH Prince Albert was scheduled to appear on a panel discussion alongside Celine Cousteau, Dr Sylvia Earle, Dr. Greg Stone and Dr. Jane Lubchenco and discuss the issue of ocean sustainability. The Prince also took the occasion to visit some of the featured exhibitors. His first stop was at the Google Liquid Galaxy display where Jenifer Foulkes gave a wonderful presentation. Then famous National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, who had his work exhibited, told the Prince the story behind some of his shots. The team at Catlin Sea Survey followed by showing him the technology responsible for creating some of these incredible panoramic underwater shots seen earlier at the Google Liquid Galaxy.

At the Google Liquid Galaxy with Catlin Sea Survey imagery

Meanwhile, on the floor at BLUE, plenty of action was happening! The day started with a keynote presentation of Dr.Sylvia Earle. At lunch time, Carl Safina’s movie “Saving the Ocean” played on the big screen. Legendary filmmaker Doug Allan talked to a captivated audience about his numerous adventures across the oceans and on both poles. If that was not enough, the International League of Conservation Photographer closed the day by holding their cocktail reception. Michele Westmoreland, Brian Skerry and Octavio Aburto were there to represent the organization. The event was called “12 SHOTS”, named after the number of photographs publications will generally allow to tell a story.

DAY 5

HSH Prince Albert started the day with an inspirational keynote speech. One of his main points was about the people who are in the position to influence the markets, whether they be celebrities, royalties, or corporate CEOs. They have a responsibility to do more so that the system can correct itself. The danger he said was that if they don’t use their privilege situation for the common good, nobody else will. Politicians certainly won’t!

The rest of the morning was filled with insightful presentations. Dr.Ingrid Vesser showed her film “The Woman Who Swims with Killer Whales” and reminded people to support her latest project – FreeMorgan, a tragic story of an orca recently sold to a private park in the Canaries. Google hosted a wonderful lunch at the Sardine Factory. Sea Rex 3D played on the big screen. The movie, produced by Pascal Vuong and Francois Mantello went up to won in the festival’s “Best 3D” category. One of the highlights of the day came right after lunch. Hosted by O-I Glass is Life, the panel, composed of Amber Valleta, Celine Cousteau, and Edward James Olmos, looked at how to leverage the power of celebrities for good causes. Also on stage were Patrick Ramage of Global Whale Programme, who works with Amber on various campaign, and Casey Ingle From Glass if Life, who reached out to Celine to become their ambassador. Olmos presented is latest involvement with the “Thank You Ocean” campaign. His public service announcement went on to win in the festival’s “Best PSA” category.

Later in the afternoon was the screening of Great Barrier Reef: Nature’s Miracle. Produced by James Brickell at BBC, the documentary is absolutely amazing. The host Monty Halls does a great job at delivering the material. It is always refreshing to see a host that is not self absorbed like so many currently out there. It is hard to pick my favourite part of the movie, but I suggest you read Halls’ interview in the Daily Mail to find what it was like to swim with minke whales and be on the beach when thousands of green see turtles marched up the beach to lay their eggs. The film went on to win in the festival “Best Presenter Lead” category

The evening was to be a grand night – the BLUE Legacy Awards! Hosted at the Monterey Aquarium, the evening was indeed nothing short of grandiose! First were the Awards. This year, Captain Don Walsh and James Cameron were the recipients of the BLUE Lifetime Achievement Award, in exploration and filmmaking respectively. Anatoly Sagalevich did the honour of giving Walsh his award while Dr.Sylvia Earle was full of wit celebrating her really good friend Cameron. Mike DeGruy, who unfortunately passed away in a tragic helicopter accident earlier this year in Australia, also was honoured. His wife Mimi, received on his behalf, the 2012 Dr.Sylvia Earle Award.

Capt. Walsh, Cameron & Dr. Earle

For the dinner, first the guests had to make their way pass the Jellyfish exhibit, displaying with a blue background, astonishing and fascinating species. Above the bar, anchovies swam in circle feeding on minuscule particles, their little jaws un-proportionally huge filtering the water. The dinner was set right in front of the Open Sea tank, only a few feet away from blue fin tuna swimming like giant bullets through the dark blue water. The scene was absolutely surreal. It was as if we were all dining in a giant glass submarine, in the middle of the open ocean, surrounded by stunning creatures. I was sitting next to Dan Basta director of the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, and Dan Laffoley. On several occasions, our conversation got interrupted by a green sea turtle swimming by. Looking at us from across the glass, floating motionless, with its imposing size, as big as the table, it reminded us on how fortunate and privilege we were. Needless to say, the night was a huge success!

Dr.Sylvia Earle and myself discussing the ocean – copyright Jenifer Foukles

Bruce Robison, Dr. Earle, Chris Welsh, Capt. Walsh, Phil Nuytten, Anatoly, Cameron, Emory Kristof

BLUE Recap Day 1 to 3

The dust has settled and people have finally been able to catch their breath. It is a week now since the Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit ended. 2012 will be remembered as the year where everything changed for the production team behind the event. With a line up of ocean celebrities, European Royalties, Hollywood power, and a long list of incredible movies, BLUE has set a benchmark for what is to come in the future. Lets go back and recap what happened.

DAY 1

Even if the official start was on Monday September 24th, there was plenty of action already happening the day before, on Sunday. Familiar faces started to roll into the hotel while submersibles from the Waitt Foundation, Ocean Gate, Virgin Oceanic and Hawkes Ocean Technologies appeared in the lobby. While the people from the Google Liquid Galaxy, Ocean Futures Society, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Ocean Footage, 5 Gyres and many more were busy settling down their booth, Surfrider and Congressman Sam Farr were entertaining and helping a group of children cleaning the beach of trash. Armed with a bag and gloves, everyone picked up a fair amount of cigarette butts, plastic bags, cans, plastic debris, empty bottles, and even a shoe. Even though it was great to see such enthusiasm for collecting people’s left overs, I couldn’t stop thinking about how our relationship with nature has changed. When I grew up, nature was a place to have fun, to explore, to play hide and seek, to get lost, to experiment, to wander – and through this, one came to develop the love and care it so deserves. Now, nature has become a debate, an ideology, a place where we ask children to go and clean up our mess. We tell them it is their duty to do so. Personally I question the long term effect for this strategy. Already surveys are coming out pointing to the next generation and discovering that their care for the environment and nature is at a record low. But this issue is for another time. Right now, looking at these kids roaming the sand searching for things that don’t belong there, I was just happy that there were out and not inside somewhere, watching television or on the computer.

Towards the end the afternoon, I met with documentary filmmaker and adjunct professor of Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University, Gianna Savoie. We talked for quite a while about the difficulties and challenges of transforming the scientific narrative into a story that people can connect with. Competing for attention, our world is no more forced to listen or watch – the internet and the democratization of knowledge and information have changed the way people learn. They don’t want to simply be told the facts, what matters is the personal story behind it. The human element. The emotions. For the scientific community, this reality and necessity is a complicate task to understand. Their funding often now depends on reaching out to places and people who don’t want to read through hundreds of pages of data, but instead they want to feel the emotional connection.

In the evening, the press was invited at Peter B’s Brewpub for a long night of food and home brewed beer tasting. Quite a feast!

DAY 2
I started the day by having breakfast with legendary Captain Don Walsh. Our mutual friend Josh Bernstein has suggested we meet and thank god he did. Walsh, a retiree Navy Captain, is an oceanographer and expert in marine policy. He was the first to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960, aboard the submersible Trieste together with Jacques Piccard. He was also the last one to say goodbye and the first one to say welcome back to James Cameron on his personal breaking record visit to the deepest point of the world’s oceans (DeepSea Challenger). The Captain was here not only as part of the Ocean Elders but also to receive a Life Achievement Award. At one point, Jean Michel Cousteau passed by our table and the two of them entered a long chat, remembering many past friends. When Walsh told Cousteau that the Chinese had already been down in the Mariana Trench three times since Cameron, collecting many samples and specimens, he simply couldn’t believe that no one knew about this. How was it that no one had heard about this? He asked.

Following our conversation from the day before, Gianna Savoie was now part of a panel, along with Alyson Barrat from Living Oceans Foundation, Blair Palese from Antarctic Ocean, Charlotte Vick from Google Ocean & Mission Blue, Annelore Reisewitz from Strategic Ocean Solutions and Kathleen Flood from Cascade Game Foundry. The title of the discussion was “Communicating Science: Mastering Science Storytelling”. During her presentation, Alyson put up on screen a live “Skype” conversation with Captain Philip G. Renaud, aboard the Foundation’s boat in the French Polynesia. Palese talked about their incredible campaign they have going on right now in anticipation of CCAMLR’s meeting on the faith of conservation for the Antarctic Ocean. Called “I’m Watching”, the strategy maximises the current technologies and social media. Charlotte Vick talked about the impact Google Earth has and how one little entry can generate millions of views. Finally Gianna presented to the crowd the amazing Pacific Voyager project. Combining culture, science and indigenous heritage, the expedition is a marvel, bridging historical knowledge and practises with today’s need to connect to something deeper.

At the same time at the theatre, Louie Psihoyos was presenting for the Encore Series, his 2009 Academy Award movie The Cove. Also in other rooms, Craig Eastman talked about the importance of music in storytelling while Craig Adkins showed us the incredible capacities of the GoPro and how this tiny camera has changed the way we see the world.

The evening was marked by the official opening event. On stage, taking turns, Congressman Sam Farr, BLUE Founder Debbie Kinder, Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Sylvia Earle each welcome the crowd. While most talked about the importance of educating and breaching outside of the ocean community, Jean-Michel spent much of his speech talking about the very sad episode of Morgan, an orca that was recently captured and is now in captivity in a private park in the Canaries. Dan Basta, director of the office of National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA, surprised everyone by honouring the work of Debbie and her daughter Sara. The evening was followed by the screening of Otter 501 and ended with a light buffet. The tone was set and tomorrow was going to be another incredible day!

DAY 3
The day began with a series of really interesting classes and presentations. Emmy Award winning wildlife cinematographer Andy Brandy Casagrande IV treated the audience with absolutely stunning footage taken with the Phantom camera. Andy showed the power of slow motion and how it can be carefully integrated in a strong documentary narrative. The lively Chris Palmer taught in his class what was needed to raise money for cinematographic nature projects. Palmer could’t be more qualified. He has been a pivotal figure in several multi-million dollar projects and is now president of the One World One Ocean Foundation. While Corinne Bourdeau and Mary Elizabeth Murphy from 360˚ Communications talked about the whole distribution aspect of documentaries, a discussion around the use of laws and lawsuits to solve the biggest plastic pollution problems was taking place on the main stage. Lisa Boyle from the Huffington Post, Christopher Chin from the Centre for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Rachel Doughty, Attorney, Leila Monroe from the Natural Resources Defence Council, and Saskia VanGendt, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looked at how legislations and regulations were either helping conservation efforts or not, and what could be done to fix the process.

Running in between sessions, my next stop was Fabien Cousteau’s talk – an insightful presentation of what it meant to be brought up in an ocean family legacy. That legacy continued right after with Fabien’s father, Jean Michel, as he presented the screening of his documentary “My Father the Captain: Jacques Yves Cousteau”. Revisiting the adventures and the legacy of Captain Cousteau through intimate stories from his family, Jean-Michel also gave a voice to the people whose lives were influenced by the famous “Commandant”. Also present was Celine, Fabien’s sister, with her new baby – the next generation of Cousteau!

While Captain Don Walsh talked about his career on the main stage in a conversation with John Racanelli, CEO at National Aquarium, I met with Marine Vice Chair for IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Dan Laffoley. Laffoley is also an advisor for my E.P.I.C. expedition. Together we joined Dr.Sylvia Earle and her team for the Mission Blue cocktail reception. Ocean Elder Graham Kelleher made the crowd laugh with his incredible wit and unforgiving australian accent. Blair from Antarctic Ocean reminded everyone of what was at stake down south, and Anatoly Sagalevich, deep sea legend and dear friend of Sylvia, delighted the audience with some of his personal stories.

The day ended in style with a screening of Finding Nemo in 3D, hosted by Walt Disney Studios. Paul Baribault, VP of marketing greeted the audience and explained the complicated process of turning a simple animated 2D movie into a unforgettable 3D experience. He also took the occasion to announce Disney Nature’s next project “Bears”, coming to theatre in 2014. The movie, directed by Keith Scholey (African Cats) and Alastair Fothergill (Earth, Chimpanzee), was shot in Alaska in the Katmai National Park and followed the “day-to-day lives” of the brown bears.

The rest of the days coming later this week!

Blue everywhere & Antarctica Ocean’s I’M WATCHING campaign

The Blue Ocean Film Festival is just around the corner, only a week away! Today the winner for the “How Do I See the Ocean” Google contest was announced. The chosen video is from Ben and Teresa of “Sailing Simplicity & the Pursuit of Happiness“.  The timing could have not been more perfect for them as they will also celebrate their honeymoon, after tying the knot last August.

On another note, besides being published on the EPIC blog, my posts from reporting live during the festival will appear on the SeaMonster Blog and the Speak Up for the Blue website. Make sure to follow my twitter handle EPIConservation for live updates.

Finally, for Antarctica Ocean Alliance‘s campaign, I’M WATCHING, I will be teaming up with AOA’s Communication Director Blair Palese to photograph the festival’s attendees and make them “Watchers”. The campaign is an attempt to influence the anticipated and much debated CCAMLR meeting which will decide on some crucial conservation issues for Antarctica and its surrounding ocean.

The campaign is fantastic in the way that it goes beyond the simple and outdated process of a petition. Teaming up with Instagram, and using our society’s best friend, the smart phone, people all over the world are invited to snap a photo of themselves either with a pair of binoculars or making a circle over the eye. The message is simple – telling the parties involved with CCAMRL that the world is watching. Make sure to join the watch! (#JoinTheWatch)

Blue Ocean Film Festival

Nothing better to kick off the return to work than attending the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, coming up on September 24th. As previously done with the International Polar Year 2012, I will be reporting and keeping you in the loop as the festival goes on. This year will certainly be incredible with an amazing long list of “Ocean Stars” – Prince Albert of Monaco, James Cameron, Bob Talbot, Doug Allan, Robert Ballard, Andy Brandy Casagrande IV, Celine Cousteau, Fabien Cousteau, Jean Michel Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, Don Walsh and so many others. Make sure to tune in as tweets, photos and daily updates will be featured on this blog.

In the meantime, watch below my video statement done specifically for the festival “How do you see the ocean” contest.

Tlingit

The Dakhkà Khwaàn Dancers are gathered outside in the hall of the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, dressed in their regalia. Their drums, made with a moose hide and painted with motifs whose century-old designs, quiver with hypnotizing resonance every time the padded stick hits them. Their moose leather moccasins, embroidered with thousands of multicolored beads – all sewed by hand, one by one, are adorned with fluffy hare fur that whoosh with each move. From their cedar hats, several small snow ermine pelts hang loose and create a bright white streak when moved rapidly. Around their knees and at the bottom of their robes or button blankets, long fringes dance like the leaves on a Peking Willow, shoved around by a fierce wind, giving a whirlwind optic illusion. Singing in their native tongue, they announce to the waiting crowd that the ceremony is about to begin and beat their drums like the stomping hooves of a herd of caribou. In a long crescendo, the rumble grows louder and louder, like an approaching storm. The percussions turn into the roar of thunder pounding its way through. Their singing cracks through the atmosphere like lightning. The walls might be vibrating and the ground might be shaking, but the crowd of First Nation people waiting inside the great hall knows this is no regular storm; it is a storm of change, the return of a long lost tradition. This is their cultural phoenix reclaiming its legacy, its place, as the pillar of their ancestral identity. The crowd is ecstatic. It is time to celebrate!

A Fortunate Encounter 
I met Marilyn Jensen, the leader of the dance group last May in Montreal, during the International Polar Year Conference. They had just performed, leaving me mesmerized and with so many questions that I had to meet them and find out more. Although we talked at length about their performance and today’s struggles and challenges for the indigenous communities of Canada, called First Nations, it was our mutual love of folkloric art and my fascination for Native mythology that bonded us.

Marilyn Jensen (right) & members of the Dakhkà Khwaàn Dancers

Marilyn Jensen (right) & members of the Dakhkà Khwaàn Dancers

From the Inland Tlingit and Tagish Nations, Marilyn was born in Whitehorse, Yukon, in Northern Canada. Her village, Carcross, whose name stands for Caribou Crossing, is known for its 4,500-year-old aboriginal artifacts that were found some years ago. Her clan, the Dakl’ aweidi, an ancestral name that means “People of the Black Sands”, belongs to the Wolf/Eagle moiety (one of two groups within a culture). The Dakla’weidi crest is the Killerwhale. With a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Alaska and a Masters in Indigenous Governance from the University of Victoria in Canada, Marilyn worked for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Council for Yukon First Nations. Today, beside teaching Indigenous Governance at the Yukon College, she dances, manages and is the group leader for the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers.

Her mother, Doris McClain is the matriarch of her lineage and former Chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. It is no surprise that Marilyn is a key player in her community’s cultural revival. Her mother started a dance group back in the 1970‘s, where her own children danced. For several decades, she was extremely active and vocal on the necessity for her people to preserve, honor and recapture their ancestral heritage. Now it is Marilyn who is carrying on her mother’s work, fulfilling a dream that has been in the works for many years. To say that courage, strength, and dedication runs within the family is an understatement. These women are empowered with an energy that defies any norms, as if through them, their ancestors were channeling their powers and making them heralds for the return of the lost Inland Tlingit identity.

A couple of weeks after our encounter, she contacted me telling me that there was to be a very special and historical event coming up in Whitehorse. Trust me she said, “You definitely don’t want to miss it!” The event in question was the re-raising of the Dakl’ aweidi Keét Hít (Killerwhale House), which had been burned by the Anglicans over one hundred years ago. It was to be a milestone in the revitalization of the Inland Tlingit/Tagish community, something almost unheard of. The occasion was so unique that several Tlingit chiefs from the Alaska coast were traveling to attend it, reigniting a long-lost tribal custom. In the old days, traveling long distances to visit other clans was not only common but necessary for maintaining good relationships and trade deals. But when the territorial border between Canada and the United States of America along the pacific northwest coast of America was created, the Tlingit territory was literally cut in two, making any communication or movement between the Inland and Coastal Tlingit a challenge.

To be invited at a historical cultural ceremony was not to be taken lightly, so it was important for me to find out more about Marilyn’s past, her clan, about the Tlingit and why this event was so special.

Dakhkà Khwaàn Dancer

To Be Conquered 
Famous anthropologist Wade Davis once said: “Cultural survival is not about preservation, sequestering indigenous peoples in enclaves like some sort of zoological specimens. Change itself does note destroy a culture. All societies are constantly evolving. Indeed a culture survives when it has enough confidence in its past and enough say in its future to maintain its spirit and essence through all the changes it will inevitably undergo.” 

It is hard to imagine what assimilation means when you stand on the side of the perpetrator, when your people are the ones who conquered and took over new worlds. What is it like to loose your cultural identity? To be forbidden to practice and honor rituals that were passed down through many generations. What does it do to your spirit when you find yourself stripped of all liberties and possessions and outlawed to live the way you lived only yesterday?

How would we, dear modern citizens of this world, react if what we took for granted, what we called “Our World” and “Our Rights”, were taken away from us? Surely we would fight. Surely we would defend ourselves. Confronting this new and challenging situation we might even find added value and turn it all around, giving it a positive twist. God knows that this nation of builders and fighters has what it takes to do so. Our optimism, and Hollywood, love to believe that our ability to overcome the impossible ultimately always triumphs – aren’t we a society of winners? In reality, history has many more losers than winners and in the end, against a force that is simply too great to resist, would we accept assimilation for the sake of survival? Or would we go down in blazing glory and take our pride to the grave?

Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Whitehorse, Canada

In America, for thousands of years, indigenous societies lived in a relatively constant environment. Life was of course not easy – survival is a strenuous task and nature is unforgiving, but overall, their world was a stable reality in which one only needed to find a safe way to eat and a safe place to sleep. When the Europeans arrived, and officially terminating what anthropologists refer to as the Pre-Columbian Era, everything changed.

Colonization is a positive term that explains the process of a group of individuals taking possession of a new place. Although our semantic and politically correct system indicates otherwise, the truth is that when that place is already occupied by a different group, colonization turns into conquest. Our righteousness with history is so deeply rooted that on Wikipedia, the word “Conquest” is mainly associated with military subjugation, with no mention of the assimilation of the indigenous North Americans. In fact, when talking about “Conquering America” we allude to the Spanish invasion and the disappearance of the Aztec-, Inca- and Mayan empires. But when we talk about the Apache, the Navajo, the Tlingit, the Iroquois, the Cherokee, the Cree, the Inuit, the Sioux, the Blackfeet, or the Comanche, we then choose to refer to the colonization of North America. Our literature might fool us into thinking that what happened was for the good of everyone, but the truth remains, for the Native Americans, the Europeans conquered their territories and forced them to assimilate by taking away their culture, livelihood, and self determination. Over the course of the several hundred of years, the indigenous peoples saw their numbers decimated by wars and diseases and their land possessions dwindle to a fraction of what they were, while their culture became outlawed and gradually disappeared.

Blanket

300-year old Chilkat blanket

In Canada, this process culminated with the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857 and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869. These bills made it mandatory for indigenous people to fall in line with the system. The bills came to be known as the “Enfranchisement of the Indians”. To be enfranchised, any “Indian” over twenty-one years of age, had to speak, read and write either English or French, be well educated, of good moral character and free of debt if they were to receive “a piece of land not exceeding fifty acres out of the lands reserved or set apart for the use of his tribe, as allotted by the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, and a sum of money equal to the principal of his share of the annuities and other yearly revenues receivable by or for the use of such tribe”. Incredible since under such rules, half of the Europeans would have not even qualify for anything!

All enfranchised “Canadians” were required to choose a new surname that needed to be approved by appointed commissioners, by which they would become legally known. The wife and descendants of the enfranchised man would also be enfranchised, and would no longer be considered members of the former tribe. Finally, in 1876, the Federal Government of Canada passed the Indian Act, stripping the indigenous people of any rights over how to handle their lives and giving Canada exclusive authority to legislate in relation to “Indians and Land Reserved for Indians”. 

The assault on the First Nations’ cultural heritage didn’t stop there. In a letter to the Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald on the 27th of October 1879, Indian Reserve Commissioner Gilbert Malcolm Sproat reported that the potlatch, an indigenous cultural ceremony, was:

“… the parent of numerous vices, which eat out the heart of the people. It produces indigence, thriftlessness, and habits of roaming about which prevent home association and is inconsistent with all progress. The potlatch directly causes a large amount of prostitution common among the Coastal Tribes and is directly opposed to the inculcation of industriousness or moral habits.” 

“River Corridor”, Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse

In 1885, six years after Sproat’s condemning letter, and after much pressure from Missionaries, always with the intent to “civilize” the “Natives”, an amendment was added to the Indian Act prohibiting cultural events, such as “potlatches”. Pushing even further, in 1895, the Act was again amended so that all dances, ceremonies and festivals that involved the giving away of money or goods, were to be outlawed.

Much has changed since – the Potlatch ban was repealed in 1951, but the Indian Act remains to this day the basic foundation for the relationship between the First Nations and the Federal Government.

Despite the tragic and disastrous effect the arrival of the European had on the indigenous communities’ cultural identity some centuries ago, it seems that remnants of their heritage survived. Against all odds, a strong movement, both in the United States of America and in Canada, has been active in reviving their culture, bringing back long forgotten ceremonies and the practice of traditional art – for a much awaited revitalization of their ancestral identity.

Dakhkà Khwaàn Dancer

The Tlingit, a Powerful People 
The Tlingit, a name that translates into “People of the Tides”, were once powerful hunter-gatherers with a structured and complex society. Established on the pacific northwest coast of America, their origin is directly linked to the “First Americans” whom migrated from Asia over the Bering Strait, some 15,000 years ago. Unfortunately, being a society that transmitted knowledge through oral traditions, much of their millennial existence has been lost through the assimilation process and what we know today of their history, culture, customs, and lifestyle comes from accounts written after the arrival of the Russians and Europeans, circa 1740. However to the Tlingit themselves, all of their history is remembered through their oral traditions, at.oow (clan owned possessions) and within the collective memories of their elders and Ancestors.

Benefiting from a rich and bountiful world, where salmon and seals abounded, these coastal people were important traders. Although wealth was valued in some ways, it was the ability to share and good ethics that made social status. Of matriarchal lineage and aristocratic, kinship was fundamental not only for internal governance but also for keeping good relations with other tribes and forging trade alliances. One of the most comprehensive studies of the Tlingit people was done by Lieutenant George Emmons of the United States Navy, who was stationed in Alaska in the 1880s and 1890s. After he passed away, the American Museum of Natural History commissioned American anthropologist and former professor emeritus of anthropology at Bryn Mawr College, Frederica de Laguna to take over Emmons’ work and complete his unfinished encyclopedia. The results were finally published in 1991 in a 530-page book titled “The Tlingit Indians”. Today, it is considered by many to be a very important resource available on the Tlingit people.

at.oow (clan owned possessions)

The HÍt (clan lineage house) was the most important unit within the social structure. Part cultural center, part political arena and part spiritual retreat, the clan house was also where all the clan’s possessions were stored, under the care of a hít s’aatí (caretaker). It was where trade issues were discussed, where kinship matters were dealt with, where marriages were held and where births and deaths were celebrated and mourned. The houses were laboriously decorated with carvings and ornaments, representing their clan association, moiety and history. Today, just a few authentic HÍt can be found on the coast of Alaska, in Saxman, near Ketchikan, Haines, Klukwan, and Angoon. One of the most important, the Chief Shakes Tribal House, located on Wrangell Island, was destroyed in 1869 by the US Navy. An exact replica of the 19th century building was built in 1940 and today, the house is undergoing extensive conservation work financed by the Rasmuson Foundation. The clan house in Sitka, built in 1997 is a modern rendition but has successfully kept its historical integrity.

The Koo.éex (Potlatch) was and remains at the core of the Tlingit culture and economic system. The word Potlatch is believed to originate from the Chinook jargon, a mix of indigenous languages with European words. While Koo.éex, which translates to “giving”, is defined in the modern dictionary “as an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige”, in reality, it is far more than that. While the HÍt is the physical location where all affairs are conducted, Koo.éex represents the structure and process, the spirit with which these matters are orchestrated. In some ways, it could be said that simply it is a form of ceremonial syntax, to be applied to any ceremony or meeting held in the clan house. More than a mere “feast” the Koo.éex embodies the Tlingit’s values and code of ethics. And it is precisely for this reason that it was seen as a direct threat to the mission to assimilate and convert the indigenous tribes.

Split Raven chief from Alaska dancing at the Potlatch

While dancing, singing, speech making, conducting protocols and gifting are the manners in which Koo.éex is executed, its structure is based around the principles of sharing and reciprocity. Originally, it was also often used as a tool to gain social status. Culturally, the social status of a clan or individual was based not on possessions, but on the capacity to give away and share. This principle was important for the redistribution and reciprocity of wealth, a strategy crucial for keeping good trading relationships with other clans. This aspect was contrary to, and totally clashed with the European Christian capitalist system. It was impossible for the colonists to comprehend how people could work so hard and then give everything away, almost bankrupting themselves in the process. This misunderstanding only reinforced their loathing of the indigenous culture. Today, although the grandeur of the Koo.éex has decreased, it is still an important ceremony and practiced amongst the First Nations of the Northwest Coast communities.

Rising From The Ashes 
Tagish is a short drive east of Carcross, on Road 8, passed Chootla and Crag Lake. Sitting on the banks of the Six Mile River, the small community, whose name means “fish trap” in Athapaskan, was an important First Nation trading settlement, serving as a middle point between the coastal and inland peoples. Today, besides being a fishing heaven for Lake Trout, Arctic Grayling and Northern Pike, it is mostly known as, along with Carcross, one of the villages of Skookum Jim, Patsy Henderson and Dawson Charlie, all credited to having discovered the gold that led to the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1800’s.

Chilkat Blanket “Frog Coming Out of the Den” belonging to the Kiks.adi clan of Sitka

Right after the Tagish River bridge, to the right, near the campground, is where, about one hundred years ago, the Dakl’ aweidi HÍt was turned to ashes. There are no ruins or remnants of any structure that could give clues as to its exact location, only rumors and memories. Besides the knowledge passed down from the great great parents, a very few accounts point to the existence of the building – “As mentioned, the nineteenth century Daql’awedi house at Tagish was called either kit hit or gotc Hit.” (McClellan, My Old People Say, 453.)

The Tagish clan house was burned down in a final and desperate attempt by the Anglicans to crush the Tlingit’s fighting spirit. On the premise that if you destroyed the “Indian’s Temple”, the “Natives” would be forced to let go, convert, and embrace a new god. But the spirit of these Kwáan (people/nation) that has lived for thousands of years managed to survived this last century. The walls of their clan house might have been reduced to dust, washed away by the rain and returned to the ground, but their identity, their Haa latseení (people’s strength – body, mind & spirit) never truly disappeared. Just like a dormant seed, waiting for the right time, nurtured by the soil and surrounding elements, gathering its forces before it re-flourished. Just like a dormant volcano, seemingly quiet and subdued, buried forever in a prison of rock, but when ready, will explode and no forces on earth will be able to stop it.

Members of the Deisheetaan Clan, Raven Moiety.

On a large patch of tall grass, surrounded by pines, through which the river can be seen flowing, two groups are facing each other. On one side, the Dakl’ aweidi clan, from the Wolf/Eagle moiety, and on the other, chiefs and representatives from the Raven moiety. The gentle breeze and warm northern summer sun are good omen an elder confines to me, “The Ancestors are here” she concludes. Everybody is dressed in full regalia. Some of the outfits have literally been taken out of museums especially for the occasion. One of them worn by a Raven Chief, is a 300-year old Chilkat blanket that is normally on display at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. Another precious artifact, brought by a Killerwhale Chief in Juneau, is a Tlingit dagger. From around 1650 to 1700, the dagger was forged out of a meteorite by a man of the Dakl’ aweidi named Kucheesh (Dark Wolf). The display of priceless at.oow (a clan’s most prized collectively owned possession), more than a million US dollars in value, is a reminder to all of us present just how unique and important this event is.

Tlingit dagger from the 16th century

The ceremony is a series of exchanges and acknowledgements between the two moieties. The beauty and richness of the moment is not really about what is being said, but rather about what transpires. Everything revolves around the notions of respect, cooperation, honor, the care for the clan and the value put into the wisdom given by the Elders. The way they talk and address each other embodies these beliefs. As one of the Chiefs explained to me, whether by telling stories, or addressing the clan, talking is an act of reciprocity. There is an art to it. There is a rhythm, there are pauses and silences. There is a time to talk and a time to listen. There are times to ask and times to wait for an answer. You need to let your audience acknowledge what you are saying and let them participate. He confesses to me that this art is one of the most difficult ones to teach today and he is conscious on how hard it is for the younger generations who live in an exponentially fast world that is focused on the individual. He finds it hard to convince the young ones to emphasize the value of the clan and of the family while the society around them glamorizes self-indulgence, fame, and short-term gains. Right now however, to see these Elders, these Chiefs, conducting the ceremony and addressing each other with such respect is a treat. If only our own legislators and politicians did the same, I am sure that our world would certainly be in a better place…

Raven Chiefs

Chiefs from the Raven moiety in Alaska at the Dakl’ aweidi HÍt (clan house) raising ceremony

As the sun disappears past the tip of the trees, two Dakl’ aweidi matriarchs take a shovel and break the ground, turning the sacred soil around several times. A chief comes and kneels, rumbling his finger through the dirt. He thanks the Ancestors, the ones who have lived, prospered and died on this land for several thousands of years. Then taking a handful of the earth, he stands up and goes around giving some to everyone. This is a moment of utmost importance, by binding the past with the future, with what was and what will be, and by uniting the dead with the living, a legacy is created.

As each holds in his or her hands a piece of that legacy, a dance begins. Gently bending their knees and bringing their robes and blankets to their faces, the dancers hide their bodies and force the audience to focus on the visual display produced by their regalia. On their heads are “naa s’aaxhwu”, clan hats made of woods and featuring intricate carvings of their clan and history. Dakl’ aweidi “naa s’aaxhwu” all bear the iconic killer whale dorsal fin and by slowly rocking their heads from side to side, with an upward then downward motion, they transform themselves into a pod of killer whales swimming the sounds of the northern pacific coast.

Elders from the Dakl’ aweidi clan distributing the sacred soil

While the “killer whales” swim in a circle, on the very same ground where the clan house will be built, the rest of the group, one by one, sprinkles back the earth they had hold in their hands onto the Dakl’ aweidi dancers, this way connecting their ancestral coastal origins with their inland future.

As the ceremony comes to an end, final congratulations are made, handshakes are exchanged, and embraces are shared. Even though the sun has disappeared behind the mountains – the northern summer sky rarely gets dark before midnight, it has been a very long day and we are all starving. As if on cue, Marilyn announces that we are all to reconvene at her place for a real Tlingit feast!

Tobacco sprinkled on Killerwhale “naa s’aaxhwu”, (clan hats) to brings good luck.

A Time To Celebrate 
Sitting on the banks of the Yukon River, in Whitehorse, the recently built Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, is one of four First Nations cultural centers in Yukon. Designed to honor the river and its people, the building is made up of a series of rooms linked together by a very long hallway, called the “River Corridor”. The front of the building is curved to illustrate the river’s sinuous flow while the off-white rock emulates the natural clay bluffs that are prominent throughout the river valley. Inside are several event rooms, conference rooms, cultural exhibits, an elder room and a spiritual sacred room. It is in the main room that today’s potlatch, a celebration for yesterday’s raising of the clan house, is being held.

Only 60 years ago, the ban on Potlatch was lifted. The Second World War had ended in 1945, yet the First Nations were still forbidden to celebrate their cultural heritage. In 1951, while the Americans and Canadians were busy watching Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn on the big screen, the First Nations celebrated the ratification of the Indian Act, making “attempts to pursue land claims and the use of religious ceremonies (such as potlatches) no longer prohibited by law”. For Marilyn’s mother, having grown up in an era of “prohibition”, these past couple of days have been like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. After years of repression, years of subdued existence and much effort spent keeping a dying culture alive, her people are finally coming together once again, just like in the old days.

Members of the Dakhkà Khwaàn Dancers dancing at the Potlach

From two in the afternoon until midnight, and repeating the same manners witnessed yesterday, speeches are made, stories are sung, dances are performed, gifts are given, and clan names are appointed. Much like their people have done for thousands of years, these Inland Tlingit and Tagish are celebrating their cultural heritage and through it, acquiring the confidence needed to maintain its spirit and historical essence and assure its future.

Walking up to Marilyn, who is catching her breath after such a powerful entrance, I ask her if she ever thought it would come to this, as I point to the crowd, the dancers, the building, the chiefs from Alaska, her daughter who is dancing and her mother who is sitting still, overwhelmed by emotion. Trying to take everything in, she turns to me and I can see a tear lingering on the corner of her eyes. On her face, pride is radiating. This is not personal pride but rather the pride of a people that has finally found its promised land after such a long and treacherous journey.

“Thank you” she says to me. “I am really happy that you were here to see my family and learn more about our culture. It was an honor for us to have you with us.” Her modesty takes me by surprise and I insist that the honor is mine. I ask her if she thinks her grandmother would have been proud of this moment, and of her granddaughter. “She is, don’t worry. Very much so. She is here, along with our Ancestors. And they are really happy and proud of us!”

Goonaxcheesh!

Four generations of Tlingit First Nation

The Crossing

We were anchored in the Bay of Chaguaramas, just on the other side of St-Peters Bay, in Trinidad. Around us, the surface of the water was oily and with a metallic shimmer. The wind wandered around slowly and in all directions, and every time it came our way, it brought with it a diesel smell whose origin I couldn’t pinpoint. Maybe it was the exposed shipyard on the shore, where they were grinding metal all day, letting the iron dust fly and land on decks all around, turning into rust in just a few hours. Maybe it was from one of those beat-up boats that decided to empty its bilge in the water to avoid paying the legal fee and doing it the professional way. Who knows? Looking around the bay, I didn’t have enough fingers to count the possibilities where the leak could come from. Garbage kept floating by, pushed by the strong current, heading somewhere around the bay and out of sight. Trinidad was really not what I expected! During the taxi ride the day before, from the airport of Port of Spain, the island had looked like many other Caribbean places that struggle with too much growth and not enough structure. Everybody was driving a car, alone, and there were shops everywhere where one could buy any piece of plastic imaginable. Sadly, the whole place was looking rickety and dirty. Staring through the back seat window, I had wondered if this was really the promised land of economic growth?

I had flown there to join John, a friend of my girlfriend Jas, who owns a sailboat and with whom we were sailing across the Atlantic, to the Azores. Although we were to pick her up in St-Maarten, along with another guest, I had offered the captain to fly in a little earlier and help him sail from Trinidad. As I sat in the wheel-house and looked around at this dump, I was not sure anymore it had been such a good idea! The reason why we were down there, since the boat had been already in St-Maarten last week, was because of fuel. The captain had a connection, someone at a commercial station who would let him fill up his boat at the discounted price for locals, saving him more than half of the regular price. If you were ready to spend the day going back and forth in a little dinghy, carrying loads of heavy canisters of fuel and becoming all soiled with diesel, then you would be rewarded with savings in the thousands. Fortunately, this chore had been done before I arrived and to be honest, I don’t think I would have participated in something that in Trinidad & Tobago could result in jail time. John had told me that the plan was to spend another day or two here before heading back north to the Dutch Antilles. Looking over to the series of grungy marinas, I couldn’t say that I was thrilled of spending a night there, even less at the prospect of spending a couple of days, so I went down below into my cabin, put my headphones on and started dreaming of the Atlantic.

The first time I crossed the Atlantic was back in 2001 onboard M/Y Talithat-G, the Getty family’s private yacht. We had left London and were heading to St-Maarten when a gale forced us to take refuge in the protective bay of Corunna, in Spain. We sheltered there for a few days, waiting for the storm to pass, and once the forecast showed promising days ahead, we carried on and the rest of our 14-day crossing was smooth and flawless. My second crossing was again on a motor yacht, M/Y Leander, belonging to a friend of the Queen, Sir Donald Gosling. That time though, I headed east from St-Barth’s to Antibes in the Mediterranean. This third crossing was to be my first sailing trip across the Atlantic and it was something I was really looking forward to. The owner of the boat was an old friend of Jas’ with whom she had sailed through Magellan Strait and the Beagle Channel, around the island of Tierra Del Fuego, Patagonia, many years ago. His boat was a 54ft full keel sloop, custom made in Asia. Even though she showed signs of age, her new teak deck managed to shave years off her appearance, and gave her a much needed rejuvenated look. Overall she appeared to be in good shape.

While I lay in my bunk reading the first pages of a book I had chosen for the voyage, called “Seventh Journey” by Earl de Blonville on his expedition to Greenland, a nice aromatic smell of jasmine rice told me that dinner was being prepared. I took the cue and headed to the aft deck to set the table when a small dinghy appeared from the shadows and drove right up to us. Tying his little inflatable to our port side, the driver, without asking permission, hoisted himself onboard, then lit the cigarette that was hanging half wet, off his lips. After a long and almost endless drag, he finally exhaled a huge cloud of smoke that literally made his entire face disappear. The man wore only shorts, which were dirty of engine grease and scattered with holes made from, I could only assume, the burning ash of falling cigarettes. His belly, inappropriately disproportionate to the rest of his body, was the result of many decades of heavy beer drinking. His head was shaven and the light from the salon sparkled on his seemingly polished skull. His nose was not big, but edgy and pointy. Without a beard or mustache, his smoke-colored teeth blended with his dark,tanned skin. Slapping his abdomen with strength and pride, like a keg full of beer, he let out a blaring burp that resonated all the way down to the galley and announced his arrival. The captain peeked his head outside of the entrance and looked at the man who was now again lighting up his wet cigarette. “Hooyyyt!” the man said in a strong coarse Australian accent. John nodded slightly and disappeared to attend more important matters – like making sure that the rice didn’t burn! Taking another long cigarette drag, he looked at me and, his words chasing the smoke away said: “Hoyt! Did’ ya tell him?” “Tell him what?” the captain answered from inside the boat. “ ‘Bout thy Gold!”

Billy was an old sailing pal of the captain, the kind of friend you keep bumping into around the Caribbean anchorages. He and his family had been living on a 50ft boat for years. His last child, a boy, had been born on his boat, his wife giving birth on the kitchen table. “Me son’s strong wit broad shoulders lik’ mine, and you know why? Cause am th’ one who, sticking me fingers under his teeny arms, pull’d him out!” Although I gave him credit for his achievement, I had difficulties chasing this troubling image out of my head. While he constantly cursed, smoked like a chimney and had the manner of a pirate, his children were “home schooled” because, as he said: “thy system’s shite mate!” Not only didn’t he trust the system but he also disapproved of the values inculcated in school. Their sailboat was fitted with several flatscreen tv’s on which the children keep watching movies and playing video games. The several generators onboard kept breaking and were a constant source of endless stories on how the new repairs would boost superpowers which would make them so “cool”! Like a child who had just finished his first lego project and was full of pride, he told us that the freezer he had been working on lately would be able to go as low as minus 17 degree Celsius! I was not too sure why such freezing cold temperature was that important, but for Billy, it sure seemed to be. Deep down though, Billy has a big heart and will do anything for any stranded soul in need of assistance.

As he sat at the table, puffing one cigarette after another, flicking the butts overboard, Billy went on to tell me that I needed to convince the captain of going gold hunting off the coast of Guiana. Apparently he knew of a secret spot, that he had learned of from a drunk man in a bar, and kept the treasure location and coordinates locked in his boat. It sits at 60 meters, and is where a Spanish ship sunk hundreds of years ago, taking along with it several dozen bars of gold. When I told him that the story sounded a bit too much like an old fairy tale told amongst pirates, he rose up to his feet, slapped his big round belly and pointed the finger at me. While staring me straight in the eyes, he told me: “I knew tha’ old man. When he took hy knif’ out in thy bar and point it in me face telling me ain’t nothing more sacred than thy sailor’s word, I knew in me heart he was no shit’in me!” Realizing this conversation was going nowhere, I told Billy that unfortunately, we had guests waiting for us in St-Maarten and a work assignment in the Azores, and sadly, although we would have loved to buy a $10,000 sonar and comb through miles and miles of ocean for weeks, we would have to take a rain check and perhaps partake in the next gold rush. Since I was not going to help him in his sacred quest, he got up and took his pack of cigarettes out. When he found none, and realized it was empty, he scratched his head then said: “Argh! Bunch of wussies! Don’t come crawling to meself when I have all me gold!” And with those last words, he jumped into his dinghy and disappeared in the dark.

Sunset over the Caribbean

The next day we were ready to leave. The forecast showed good weather all the way to the Dutch Antilles and after motoring past Scotland Bay, we left behind Billy and the Bay of Chaguaramas (the two went really well together!) – hoisted the main sail and got our bearing north. Our next stop was St-Maarten!

For the crossing, besides the captain, Jas and myself, our fourth crew member was Liz – a girl from the UK in her early thirties, who several years ago worked as a stewardess with the captain while chartering the boat. She now owned a little vintage boutique in the Portobello district of London. All of us were seaworthy, at different levels. John had over thirty years of sailing experience around the world, from Antarctica to the South China seas. Along with my two crossings, I was what you can call an amateur sailor – someone who knows his way around without knowing much! I tremendously enjoyed sailing and didn’t have trouble with sea sickness. Jas had sailed the Raging Forties and Furious Fifties around infamous Cape Horn and LeMaire Strait, where the Atlantic and Pacific meet and the conditions are some of the worst in the world. But that was over a decade ago and she hadn’t set foot on a sailboat since. Liz’s experience was more with holiday sailing in the Caribbean, but having worked with the captain, she knew her way around the boat.

The morning before our grand departure, we all went grocery shopping. The captain was to buy the basics and most of the food, and we would only have to buy particular things we would want to snack on during the trip. Simple enough you would think! Crossing the Atlantic in a sailing boat takes anywhere between 14 and 30 days, depending on the wind and if you chose to motor or not. As a basic rule, you always want to have more than enough food, fuel, and water. So if you are planing for 17 days, you need to have adequate supplies for at least 21 days. Without asking the others if anyone had any dietary requirements or preferences, John took off and came back much later with his own interpretation of “adequate supplies”: enough rice, pasta and flour for at least 2 months, 6 liters of water (!!!), just enough veggies for a week (no frozen vegetables), a couple of loaves of bread and a pretty big bunch of things we were not allowed to touch. The “Caribes” beer was to be given away in the Azores, not really a problem since the crossing was dry. The cheese was for himself, as was the chocolate, the couple of french baguettes, the cereals, and the yogurts. The sausages were not for us but for a friend. We did have a freezer full of fresh fish: tuna, wahoo, and dorado, caught the week before, but to imagine that we would only eat white bread and fish with rice or pasta for two weeks was not really our idea of a pleasant trip. As we soon found out, this was only the beginning of a long and disagreeable voyage.

As captain and host, there were two things we were expecting from John: to keep us safe and make our trip enjoyable. Everybody onboard believed that these requests were far from being too demanding. Of course this was no luxurious cruise, like the previous two I had been on, but neither was it a boot camp! We were only four people on a 54ft boat and there was no reason why we should not be like a small family, sharing everything – chores included, dining together, laughing, and playing games. God were we wrong!

By mid-afternoon, it was obvious there were two sides, theirs and ours. I was not sure if it was because the captain had had a crush on Jas 15 years ago or something else, but he was really getting annoying and plainly rude. He was in his mid 60’s and from the United Kingdom. Both Liz and Jas remembered him being a gentlemen, a wonderful person to travel with, a man of class and a great host. But over the limited amount of conversation he and I had had between Trinidad and St Maarten, I had come to understand that life had not really turned out the way he had wished. The chartering business hadn’t been too good these past couple of years. As boats constantly demand maintenance and are very expensive to keep, his savings had over time disappeared. Now he was caught in a vicious circle of having to scrape together what he could from chartering just to keep himself afloat. His idea of retiring and enjoying sailing had unfortunately disappeared along with his good humor and manners. This season, he had originally wanted to dry dock the boat in Trinidad and make some repairs, but didn’t have the funds to do so. So he was left with no choice but to cross to the Azores and stay in Horta where rates were much cheaper, saving himself a return airfare and the cost of hauling the boat out during hurricane season.

Red-billed Tropicbird

Liz, Jas and I had all made special arrangements to accompany the captain on his trip to the Portuguese islands. Of course this was something we all wanted to do, but it was rather the idea of spending time amongst friends and doing something exceptional together, that convinced us of taking part in this adventure. We knew John could do the crossing on his own, but were sure that he would appreciate having a little company! Now in hindsight, I think we would have been better off staying home watching Chevy Chase’s “National Lampoon Vacation”. At least we would have laughed!

After doing our own proper groceries and buying toilet paper, since there was certainly not enough for both women onboard, (it is really incredible the amount of toilet paper women use compared to men!) we expected the captain to convene the group and go over the safety protocol, to refresh our memory on seamanship and lay out the ground rules. It was in the end his boat, and it would have been normal procedure for him to tell us where everything was, what we could and couldn’t do, and how we should handle an emergency at sea. Instead, as he made himself a sandwich, he simply said: “Watches will be 2 hours. You guys eat whenever you want. I eat whenever I want! If you are not happy, then get off my boat!” We all stood there in shock as he went up to the wheel-house. We hadn’t even left the port and already we were threatened to leave! Zen my man! I don’t care what personal issues you have and to be honest, I am not interested in finding out the bugs you have twitching up your rear, but you can’t simply treat people who have flown in from three continents and travelled over a day to be with you like this! Even more so when you are the captain and host!

Without a safety brief, without being shown where the life vests were, without being told what bearing to take, without being told what to do if someone fell overboard – his answer to this question was: “You only have five percent survival anyway, so what’s the point?” – without pretty much anything other than his bad manners and ill temper, we set sail for the Azores. We could have indeed left the boat on the spot, but it would have meant a lot of trouble and to be honest, we all wanted to believe that his bad mood was only temporary. Most likely, this was the case of a really bad night’s sleep and, in a couple of days, this would all be over and turn into a happy and pleasurable cruise.

Alas, our hopes and wishes were never to be granted. Not long after leaving the island behind, the wind started to increase. Within an hour or two, the ride became really bumpy and the girls were soon lying down by the wheel-house and seasick. Being sick on board is always to be expected when you spend most of your life on land. For the majority of people, after a couple of days, their bodies become accustomed and the nausea goes away. Aware that both Liz and Jas had known worse conditions than this, their state was not really of concern, but I was mindful that perhaps John and I would have to split the watches until the girls got better. When I suggested to John that, for the first night or two, and for the safety of everyone, we should let the girls recover and share their watch, he waved his hand at me and bawled that my “princess” had to work like everybody else! Looking at Liz who was throwing up over the rail, I felt bad for her knowing that her night watch was coming up soon. As to my “princess”, I told her to take a pill and go to sleep, I would cover her sailing duties.

As expected, by the next day the women were back in shape and everyone had their routine down. But the captain hadn’t mellowed at all and the atmosphere onboard was now officially toxic. Everything was calculated, every word was measured and it was clear that our every move was being watched and judged. Jas and I ate together, while Liz – who hadn’t bought her own food – was forced to eat what John was willing to share. Everyone kept to themselves and secretive conversations amongst the divided group became focused on the drama at play.

Dead Calm

I have always found the ocean vast yet teeming with life. There is always something happening. Terns, gulls and shearwaters keep you company, dolphins ride the bow-wake, whales spout and then disappear, startled flying fish glide unbelievable distances away from you. Civilization is never far away with tankers the size of football fields rushing to their delivery and plastic “works of art” floating past endlessly on their destination to nowhere. This time though, the ocean felt like a giant desert and was irritably silent. Days into our crossing, we had yet to see a dolphin, or a turtle. We hadn’t seen a bird for days and our fishing lines had been idle from the beginning. Was this silence a reflection of what was happening onboard, a mirror to our own tiny, egotistical and secluded world? Everything was so surreal that I couldn’t stop imagining we were acting in a scene of Kevin Costner’s apocalyptic fiasco “Waterworld”. Much effort was being made in trying to change the mood, but we all had to come to terms with the unwanted truth, that this crossing was going to be long and painful. Loneliness was going to be the theme of the voyage! Come to think of it, getting off the boat in St-Maarten would not have been such a bad idea after all!

For many, to think of sailing is to think of adventure, with the wind in your hair, the sun high above, or in the company of friends racing in the Hampton’s or at Cowes. Perhaps for you it is pure relaxation, to be anchored in the crystal clear waters of a secluded bay with white sandy beaches and palm trees sipping a Mai-Thai. Or the exhilarating thrills of exploring the unknown. But in reality, and above all else, sailing is about mastering the passing of time. Whether with wind or without, whether in the most beautiful place on earth, or the worst, one must learn how to be comfortable with – well – doing nothing! Unless you are ready to motor whenever there is no wind, you will spend a great deal of time waiting. Waiting for the wind to come or waiting for the gale to go. Sometimes you will wait for days, even weeks until the right forecast finally comes. Sometimes the ocean will rage with fury, and with no end in sight, you will pray to the gods for calmer days. Sometimes the ocean will be still like a mummy. Days will pass, blending into another seamlessly and the total calm will drive you to such insanity that you would kill for a little breeze. Just think of what the mariner’s of yesteryear must have suffered in the “doldrums”! These long moments might be easier to handle when you hop from one island to another, but while crossing from one continent to another, they become tremendous exercises of meditation. And if, for some unfortunate reason, you are caught on a boat where the crew doesn’t get along, then be prepared to delve into your most powerful mantras.

Plankton bloom from the boat

It was two in the morning one night when I climbed the stairs to the wheel-house to relieve Jas from her watch. Usually, she was ready to go to sleep by the time I arrived. But that night, she was still, sitting on deck looking out over the water, seemingly mesmerized. When she saw me she smiled and gestured that I come quickly. The plankton was in full bloom, and the wake of the boat was creating a wonderful luminous spectacle over the black ocean surface. The incredible light display reminded me of the day when during my youth in Quebec I first saw the Northern Lights dancing in the sky during a silent winter night. As the hull cut through the dark liquid, the water displaced and ruffled, activating these bioluminescent wonders that wove together light blue trails that slowly rippled away – ephemeral manifestations of the invisible world. Like a comet that travels the infinite space, burning itself to its ultimate death while leaving behind a fleeting trail of its existence, so were we.

As if trying to avoid our platitude, the group found a common interest and focused on coming up with theories that would explain the lack of ocean activity. We all knew the seas were overfished and that many species were disappearing rapidly, but there was something else to the mystery. It is only when looking at the log and entries from previous crossings did the explanation come to reveal itself. Seven days into our voyage and a thousands of miles away from the Caribbean, right in the middle of the Gulf Stream, the ocean was still warmer than a city swimming-pool. Three degrees more than the average of years before (according to the captain’s log), meant that the tuna, dolphins and others had most likely traveled north in search of more productive, colder waters, bringing along with them the birds. By the tenth day, we started to see a gently but significant dip in the water temperature. As if to confirm our global warming explanation, late in the afternoon, a small pod of spotted dolphins came and greeted us as the sun went down over a colder Atlantic.

Small pod of spotted solphins

Now that the mystery had been solved, the team spirit rapidly dissolved again and the crew fell right back into its divided and individualistic mode. Our only source of joy now were these little daily visits from the dolphins, sometime in the morning but always around sunset.

One day, shortly after lunch, about five hundred miles from our final destination, the tell-tale spout of a sperm whale appeared on our starboard side. This was something we had all been waiting for. These magnificent toothed whales are year-round residents of the Azores and known to hunt for giant squid along the volcanic ridges that surround these islands. As we were slowly closing the distance to the islands, we were anxiously calculating the days when we would have our first whale sighting. The whale was floating immobile not far away, and judging from its size it appeared to be a single, lonely calf, which was quite unusual. Calves and juveniles are cared for by the females for more than a decade, and when the adults go hunting into the deep abyss the nursery pod is left behind as a group. An abandoned calf would be the perfect meal for a passing pod of Orcas, Pilot Whales or False Killer Whales. So either the rest of the group was nearby, or something bad had happened.

Swimming in the middle of the ocean

The ocean was flat calm, with barely a ripple. The sun was high and the wind almost non-existent. The conditions were perfect to go for a swim and investigate. The problem was that I had never been a big fan of swimming in the middle of nowhere. I grew up watching “Jaws” on the big screen, and am part of that generation that suffered from the “Jaws Syndrome”. I could be swimming in a lake and still would feel afraid of what lurks beneath the surface. Scuba-diving is different, because seeing below the surface automatically eliminates my fears. But for now, the idea of snorkeling my way towards an animal of several tons, that I had never encountered before, with thousands of miles of ocean in all directions demanded a giant leap of faith. Grabbing my snorkel and GoPro, I looked at Jas and told her to keep an eye on me. She had absolutely no idea how frantic panic was spreading through my body! Nevertheless, I summoned all my courage, sat on the diving platform, took a deep breath and jumped!

As I swam in the direction where I thought the whale was, I tried with all my might to stay calm and breathe. The combination of seeing endless blue everywhere, with the borrowed snorkel that was leaking badly and made me sniff salt water, certainly didn’t help me relax. I tried to stay focused, but it was really hard. I didn’t know where to look. Below, to check again that no pre-historical sea creature might suddenly appear from the depths and engulf me. Above and ahead, to see where I was going, but while doing so, I would abandoned my watch of the “under”. Or towards the boat, which seemed to get smaller and smaller. What an ordeal! Alas, the whale finally came into sight. But every time my head was under, salt water went up my nostrils. This was pathetic, I was pathetic! How many people have the chance to swim with whales in the wild, and here I was hardly able to keep my senses together! So much for an explorer! What a lamentable performance!

the dot on the right is me!

In the end, I did manage to control my breathing, and filmed a little, before the calf twisted sideways to look me over and finally swam away. But when I found myself alone again, my delusional feeling of being powerless “live bait” returned, and I swam for life, turning my fins into a small engine! As I returned, I saw Jas on the deck making big signs, like one of those airport ground controllers who direct the planes. What was I to make of her primitive attempts of communication? Was I being followed by a shark? Was there something else coming? Did the captain suddenly decide to leave me behind? All this was not making me feel any better! Grabbing the ladder, I quickly pulled myself up, only to have the exhaust bluster into my face! How pleasant! Jas came to greet me and decoded what she had been waving about. The rest of the whale-nursery was right off the bow! I was not really ready for another round of torture, but those were four more calves. So I exchanged snorkels and quickly jumped back in. This time however, as if on purpose, the captain drove the bow of the boat right into the middle of the pod of calves. Great! Of course, by the time I had swum within sight of the whales the boat had scared them off.

On the two orcas passing by

Later that afternoon, a couple of orcas, in their black and white “tuxedos” dove right underneath the boat. They passed so close, and the ocean was so clear that we felt like looking through the glass of a big aquarium. These were the predators the calves we left behind would have to fear and I was glad they were not alone. Sadly, the orcas had no further interest in us, and quickly dove away.

There are advantages to having days with no wind; albeit not for sailing. For one, you can perfectly see whatever is swimming or floating at the surface. For sailing though, it is horrible. No wind equals no speed and no speed equals motoring. But today with a flat ocean, it wast the perfect day for reconnaissance. The water seemed to be filled with jellyfish and standing at the bow, looking down, I could see in all directions and to great depths, countless of brown jelly fish of medium size, with yellowish, fluffy tentacles gently puffing their way around. Turtles feed on them and so it was no surprise of seeing them in large numbers. I looked up to see if there would be any turtle big enough to justify going back into the open ocean. Since the sperm whale episode, I had had several swims in the ocean and was now way more relaxed. In fact, I was desperately waiting for any opportunity that would request my presence off board! Suddenly, I noticed a strange big fin flapping about just ahead, one that resembled way too much to the fin of a shark. Our bearing was directly towards whatever it was, and unless one of us was to move, we were going to hit it. So I shouted: “Sharks, sharks, stop the boat!”

As we drifted towards the fin, the mystery was revealed – it was a Mola! Molas are pelagic fish that can reach up to 13ft in length and weigh as much as 3,300lbs. The English call it Sunfish while the French have named it the “Poisson Lune” (moonfish). They drift sideways close to the surface, pecked at by a regiment of small cleaning fish, and feed on jellyfish, explaining its appearance here today. A Mola was precisely what I had waited for. This time I was ready; and quickly and inconspicuously slipped into the water. The bizarre looking fish first dove to about 30ft before coming back up and allowing me to stay with him for a while. Looking at the bulgy eyes and roundness of the body, I could definitely see why the French had opted for the moon. Which left wandering, how on earth the English could find any resemblance to the sun in this weird looking flat oval shaped sea creature? My bet was that they had named it this way just to annoy their European neighbors in the usual anglo-french competition!

The mystery is revealed – a Mola!

For 15 minutes, the “Sun/Moonfish” and I eyed each other with mutual curiosity, and then it probably decided it was time to carry on with the task that had brought him here: to gorge itself on stingy, juicy jellyfish. Reluctantly I paddled back to yet another rice and fish meal aboard the “loveboat”.

On the seventeenth day, the Azores appeared. Our ordeal was about to end. Pico island’s black volcanic peak rose into the sky, piercing the clouds like a giant beacon, guiding the desperate seafarers seeking land. Although we could have tacked our way in, slowly and gently, no one onboard was in the mood of stretching our lamentable and suffocating team assignment even by an hour or two. All Jas, Liz, and myself wanted to do, was to